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Upscale Restaurant Hit With Overtime Pay Lawsuit from Former Employees: The Truth Behind the Scenes

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there are approximately 24,000 restaurants in New York City alone. In other words, you could dine at a different restaurant every night for over ten years and still have new places left to try.

If you have ever been to an upscale NYC eatery, you may have assumed that the wait staff and kitchen workers were well paid and treated fairly simply by virtue of working in an elegant locale. For some diners, it may be surprising to learn that staff at even the most expensive restaurants may not be receiving lawful wages and treatment; however, labor law violations are far too common in the restaurant industry, particularly when it comes to illegal tip pools, tip credits, the tipped minimum wage, and overtime pay.

A lawsuit was recently brought by four former employees against an exclusive Beverley Hills sushi restaurant Urasawa, owned by Hiroyuki Urasawa, for wage and hour claims.  According to the lawsuit, Urasawa workers were consistently denied breaks and not allowed to use the restroom during their shifts. Staff members were also expected to work up to 60 hours a week while earning close to the minimum wage with no overtime pay.  According to one former employee who began to run a fever and cough severely during his shift, when he asked Mr. Urasawa if he could leave early, he was fired on the spot.

Cases like this are also common in NYC. One case which gained widespread media attention in 2010 was a lawsuit against Chelsea restaurant, Del Posto, and owner Mario Batali. Batali and his partners were accused of withholding gratuities, not paying overtime wages and forcing workers to participate in an illegal tip pool. Batali settled the case for $1.5 million dollars.

In NY state, employees are entitled to unpaid 30 to 60 minute lunch breaks depending on the length of their shift and type of business that they work for.

If you are employed as a busser,  barback, waiter or server, kitchen worker, hostess, or sous-chef, know that you should be receiving overtime wages for the time that you work over 40 hours in a week, may be entitled to a meal break, and have the right to retain any gratuities you earn without having to “pay out” a percentage to managers.  If you suspect that your employer is withholding wages or implementing illegal tip or break practices, contact an attorney; you may be able to bring wage and hour claims under the FLSA.

Christopher Davis is an experienced employment litigator specializing in class actions, overtime wage recovery, discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and Wall Street bonus disputes. Before entering private practice, Mr. Davis served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office where he prosecuted violent crimes as a member of the Sex Crimes Unit.

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