Judge OKs $3.9M settlement in Fireman wage-and-hour lawsuit

Judge OKs $3.9M settlement in Fireman wage-and-hour lawsuit

NEW YORK —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

The lawsuits involving Fireman Hospitality, operator of several upscale restaurants in New York, are the latest in a string of claims brought against a variety of operators alleging violations of tip-pooling regulations and other wage-and-hour laws. In recent years, Starbucks [3], Applebee’s [4] International, Brinker International [5] and several fine-dining establishments in New York—including Buddha Bar, Pastis and Balthazar [6]—have been embroiled in similar cases. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

U.S. District [7] Judge Paul A. Crotty this month approved a payment of $588,000 to settle a suit against Redeye Grill, a Fireman restaurant in Manhattan. Crotty also said he would approve a second settlement of more than $3 million against the company’s other eateries, including Café Fiorello, Brooklyn Diner [8], Bond 45 [9], Shelly’s and Trattoria Dell’Arte [10]. The latter action reportedly involves more than 1,000 plaintiffs. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

The second settlement is expected by early July. If finalized, it would be one of the highest ever to involve a fine-dining company, legal experts said. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

“Only one of the lawsuits was settled,” emphasized Arch Stokes of Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner, the law firm that represented Fireman. Stokes said the payment was “limited to the facts of that case, and it’s a mutual settlement agreed to by all and approved by the judge.” —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Both lawsuits against Fireman were filed in 2005 by a group of employees who accused the company of violating tip-pooling regulations and other wage-and-hour laws. The plaintiffs claimed that Fireman fudged their time cards, shortchanged them on overtime and minimum wages and forced them to pay the tabs of patrons who skipped out on their bills. In addition, some employees said they were forced to work 12-hour shifts without breaks. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

In addition to the payment, the settlement calls for the creation of a system whereby Fireman Hospitality Group employees could raise concerns about such issues as sexual harassment or race discrimination without fear of retaliation. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, a worker advocacy group that Fireman accused of fostering the lawsuits, said she was happy with the settlement. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

“Fireman has done the right thing and set an example for the industry by making changes in terms of compliance with the law and creating new promotions policies and sex harassment policies and grievance procedures that will allow employees to have equal opportunity for advancement within the company,” she said. “I hope the industry takes note and follows Fireman’s lead.” —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Several New York restaurants are involved in similar lawsuits, which, among other things, accuse the employers of unlawfully forcing tipped employees to share gratuities with managers. At least some of the restaurants maintain that the so-called managers are actually shift members who should share in the pool of tips. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

“Restaurateurs in New York, and throughout the country, have been placed in an untenable position by a variety of forces including state legislatures and agencies,” said attorney Carolyn D. Richmond of Fox Rothschild LLP in New York. “There is simply no consistent definition of ‘supervisor’ for purposes of tip pooling.” —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Richmond, who has represented restaurants in several lawsuits, cautioned against viewing the Fireman settlement as a model for resolving other pending actions, in New York or elsewhere. “The settlement is just that, a settlement,” she said. “It has no precedential value as it is not a court decision and will not affect any case.” —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

According to Richmond, current wage-and-hour laws are in need of updating. “Many of the [tip-pooling] regulations in place were written over 40 years ago and are not relevant to today’s restaurants,” she said. “As a result there are very large loopholes that plaintiff class-action lawyers have swooped in and taken advantage of. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

“The restaurant industry nationwide needs to continue to lobby the various state legislatures to revise the labor codes to reflect today’s workplace.” —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

But Prof. Ruth Milkman, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California in Los Angeles, said time has not diminished the clarity of existing laws. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

“The wage-and-hour regulations are clear and unambiguous, and the restaurant group that was sued obviously recognized that in agreeing to this settlement,” she said. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Milkman added: “Tips are given by customers to reward waitstaff, and I don’t see any legitimate basis for any claim on these funds by supervisors. The law prohibits this practice unambiguously, and employers should simply abide by the rules.” —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Milkman noted that she has little sympathy for employers who claim that their business is being hampered by an overly zealous regulatory environment. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Earlier this year, Drew Nieporent, owner of New York-based Myriad Restaurant Group [11], operator of such upscale restaurant concepts as Nobu, Tribeca Grill [12], Rubicon, Centrico and Mai House [13], told a group of operators at this year’s International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York that issues such as tip-sharing litigation have made him less motivated to open new restaurants. The restaurateur, who currently is involved in wage-and-hour litigation filed by former Nobu [14] employees, said: “To be hit with lawsuits about tips after someone works for you for 16 years [and] makes over a million dollars…. It’s always when they’re out of your employ that you get a letter in the mail that they’re suing for tips and you apparently stole [from them]; it wasn’t tip sharing or tip pooling, it was tip stealing.” —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.

Last year Daniel [15] Boulud, chef-owner of New York’s fine-dining restaurant Daniel, settled a discrimination suit with eight employees for $80,000, and the Smith & Wollensky [16] Restaurant Group, now known as Fourth Wall Restaurant Group, settled wage and discrimination allegations for $164,000. —In a decision likely to attract the attention of foodservice employers nationwide, a federal judge here is expected to approve a $3.9 million settlement of two lawsuits brought against Fireman Hospitality Group for alleged wage-and-hour infractions.