A waiter working for a chain restaurant owned by a larger, parent company, if he has a grievance against his employer, may have the option of suing the larger company. Such is the case with a class action lawsuit that began with only two plaintiffs and has already grown to 50 plaintiffs. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, isn’t done yet though. Other waiters and waitresses across the country who work for, or have worked for, the company are being sought out to join the class action lawsuit.
The company being sued is Darden and it owns many popular restaurant chains which stretch across the country, including Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, and Bahamas Breeze. There are a total of more than 2,000 restaurants in the United States, including 185,000 employees, which are currently being managed by Darden.
The lawsuit alleges that Darden has failed to pay its workers the required minimum wage and forced them to continue working off the clock after their shifts have ended. This has allegedly resulted in overtime hours for which the employees were never paid straight pay, much less the proper overtime compensation as mandated by federal law. More specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Darden violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by forcing its employees to work in excess of forty hours per week without the proper overtime compensation.
The accusations date back to 2009 although, because three years is the statute of limitations for this kind of complaint, it is likely that Darden has been utilizing these illegal employment practices for much longer than that. One plaintiff has already been disqualified from participating in the class action because he worked for Darden more than three years before the lawsuit was filed.
If the number of participants in the class continues to grow as it has, the amount of money that Darden may be held liable for could reach the tens of millions of dollars. If the class is certified, such a formidable amount will certainly put pressure on the company to settle the case before it reaches the courts.
In addition to the pending lawsuit from its employees, Darden is also facing legal action from the other end of its business. Patrons have filed a lawsuit against the giant restaurant company alleging deceptive business practices. Like many restaurants, Darden adds an automatic gratuity to its bills for larger parties (in New York City, for example, a party of eight or larger would automatically have the gratuity added to their bill). However, the lawsuit alleges that, despite the automatic gratuity, their bills still came with an added space for patrons to put the tip they wish to pay. This suggests that the automatic gratuity is not going to the restaurant’s wait staff, as expected. Rather, it implies that the restaurant is receiving the gratuity in addition to the tab for food and drinks. Such a practice is deceitful to customers as well as being harmful to both customers and employees.
Although the company has remained rather quiet on the issue, one representative has called the allegations “baseless”.