Olive Garden, LongHorn workers sue over labor practices
BY CURT ANDERSON Associated Press
Friday, September 07, 2012
9/07/12 at 5:18 AM
MIAMI, Fla. - Darden Restaurants violated federal labor laws by underpaying thousands of servers across the country at Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster and other eateries, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The lawsuit filed in Miami federal court seeks to collectively represent current and past employees who worked for Darden from August 2009 to the present. It seeks potentially tens of millions of dollars in back pay and other compensation, plus interest and attorney fees, said lead lawyer David Lichter.
"Darden has a companywide pattern and practice of paying its employees below minimum wage and less than what the law requires," Lichter said. "We're seeking not only to correct the wrongs that have occurred at Darden, but hopefully this will stimulate change across the country."
Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the allegations in the lawsuit "fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business."
"Each of our brands complies with all federal and state labor and employment laws," he said in an email.
The Orlando-based company's website said it has more than 2,000 restaurants in North America that employ about 180,000 people.
The Department of Labor has found violations similar to those claimed in the lawsuit in several individual investigations, including a 2011 probe in which the company agreed to pay more than $25,000 in back wages to Olive Garden workers in Mesquite, Texas. Darden was also assessed a $30,800 fine in that case.
There are similar lawsuits pending in Illinois and New York, but the one filed in Florida is the first seeking to represent all Darden workers at its four major brands: Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille.
The lawsuit was filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Its claims against Darden include:
- Servers showed up for shifts as scheduled but were not allowed to clock in until customers began arriving.
- Employees who worked beyond 40 hours a week were not paid 1.5 times their regular pay as required.
- Tipped employees refilled salt shakers, rolled silverware in napkins and vacuumed for more than 20 percent of their work time. Such "side work" beyond 20 percent for tipped employees entitles them to at least the minimum wage.
Original Print Headline: LongHorn, Olive Garden servers sue
This Red Lobster restaurant is in Hialeah, Fla. Servers at Olive Garden, Red Lobster and other eateries are suing the restaurants' parent company, claiming they were cheated out of overtime pay and not allowed to clock-in until customers arrived. ALAN DIAZ/Associated Press