According to a recent lawsuit, Darden Restaurants, the company behind the success of restaurants such as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille and Red Lobster, violated federal labor laws by underpaying thousands of servers across the country. The company has more than 2,000 restaurants in North America that employ about 180,000 people.
The lawsuit was filed in a Miami federal court and seeks to create a class action to represent all current and past employees who have worked for Darden from August 2009 through the present. Attorneys have said they believe the affected group of Darden employees will easily top 1,000 people. The suit seeks potentially tens of millions of dollars in back pay and other compensation, plus interest and attorney's fees.
The filing states that servers frequently arrived for shifts as scheduled, but were not allowed to clock in until customers began arriving. Some were even forced to clock out and continue working without pay. Additionally, employees who worked beyond 40 hours a week were not paid 1.5 times their regular pay as required by law. Tipped employees refilled salt shakers, rolled silverware in napkins and vacuumed for more than 20 percent of their work time. Engaging in such "side work" for more than 20 percent of your day for tipped employees entitles them to receiving at least the minimum wage; something Darden did not pay.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs said that Darden consistently exhibits behavior of not paying its employees the minimum wage and fails to follow federal labor laws. For its part, Darden issued a statement saying that the suit flies in the face of the company's values. The company spokesman said that, "Each of our brands complies with all federal and state labor and employment laws, and we're proud of our standing as an employer of choice."
However, the recent suit is not the first time such allegations have arisen. The Department of Labor found violations similar to those claimed in the lawsuit in several investigations, including a 2011 probe where the company agreed to pay more than $25,000 in back wages to Olive Garden workers in Texas. Darden was eventually given a $30,800 fine in that case. In another 2011 incident, Darden paid out more than $27,000 in back pay and a $24,000 fine for labor violations involving 109 current and former workers from Red Lobster in Lubbock, Texas.
There are currently lawsuits pending against Darden in several states, including some in Illinois and New York, though the recent suit in Florida is the first to seek representation of employees across all of Darden's major restaurant brands.
Olive Garden, LongHorn Workers Sue Company Alleging Wage Violations by Curt Anderson, published at HuffingtonPost.com on September 6, 2012.
Olive Garden Parent Company Sued for Underpaying Workers by Steve Barnes, published at TimesUnion.com, September 6, 2012.
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