Wage-Hour Enforcement May be Crossing the Hudson to N.J. Restaurants

May 16, 2012

The recent settlement of a federal collective action lawsuit against Mario Batali’s restaurants for $5.25 million made local and national headlines. Batali’s restaurants were sued in 2010 for allegedly violating federal and state wage-hour laws and for withholding portions of employees’ tips. The settlement may cover up to 1,100 employees, including servers, busboys, runners and bartenders. The Batali suit is one of many recent restaurant wage-hour lawsuits in the metropolitan area. Just one law firm alone has filed over 100 wage and hours lawsuits against New York restaurants, including  Japonais, Heartland Brewery, Wolfgang Steakhouse, Nobu, BB King Blues Club and Starbucks.

A recent court filing suggests that New Jersey restaurants may now be in the cross-hairs of the plaintiffs’ bar. This month the law firm that brought the Batali lawsuit filed a collective action and class action suit in federal court in New Jersey against a New Jersey restaurant on behalf of wait staff employees. The claims include minimum wage and overtime violations and improper use of the tipped employee minimum wage.

In addition to lawsuits, restaurant proprietors should also be aware of an increase in Department of Labor audit activity which is focused on the restaurant industry nationwide. In December 2011 the DOL recovered $2.3 million in back wages for nearly 600 workers at 46 Italian restaurants and pizzerias on Long Island.  Thus far in 2012, the DOL has assessed $1,307,808 in fines against Massachusetts restaurants, $132,000 in back wages against a Texas restaurant chain, $177,395 in back wages against a Florida restaurant, and $104,807 in back wages against Los Angeles restaurants.

Given the increased focus on compliance in the restaurant industry in the New York metropolitan area and nationwide, restaurant owners should conduct a self-audit to ensure that they are in compliance with all federal and applicable state wage and hour laws. For further information on how our firm can assist with the self-audit process, please contact Patrick McGovern, Esq., pmcgovern@genovaburns.com or John Vreeland, Esq., jvreeland@genovaburns.com in the Labor Law Practice Group.

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