Zero Otto Nove, a popular restaurant on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, recently settled a wage theft lawsuit for $92,000. Two bussers sued Zero Otto Nove in federal court claiming that the restaurant and its owner failed to pay them any wages at all despite requiring them to work at the restaurant 60 to 75 hours per week. The bussers claimed they worked only for tips left by customers. The bussers also claimed that a restaurant manager unlawfully took part of their tips.
Under New York law, restaurants in New York City have to pay their employees at least $15 per hour worked. Restaurants in New York City can pay employees who receive tips, such as waiters and bussers, as little as $10 per hour. However, to do this, the restaurant must first satisfy certain notification requirements (known as taking a “tip credit” under New York law). In no event can a New York restaurant make its employees work just for tips. The restaurant always has to pay its employees house pay, and failure to do so is a major violation of the New York Labor Law and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which require minimum wage and overtime pay.
Furthermore, New York law forbids restaurant managers and owners from taking any portion of tipped employees’ tips. Tips are considered the property of tipped employees. Except for valid tip pools, in which only tipped employees share tips with each other, tipped employees must always be allowed to keep all of their tips received. It is a violation of New York law for a restaurant, its managers, or its owners to pocket tips from tipped employees or to force tipped employees to give portions of their tips to non-tipped employees, such as kitchen workers.
The bussers were ready to proceed to trial against Zero Otto Nove. Following several rounds of negotiations, including two conferences with a federal magistrate judge, Zero Otto Nove resolved the case by offering the bussers a judgment against it for $92,000. The bussers accepted the judgment.
Gianfranco J. Cuadra, a partner at Pechman Law Group, represented the bussers against Zero Otto Nove.