Servers from Darden Restaurants File Lawsuits for Being Underpaid

Chances are you have been a patron at one of the thousands of Darden Restaurant’s in the past.  Servers from Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Long Horn Steakhouse and Capital Grille sued Darden Restaurant Inc., the Orlando-based company that operates approximately 2,000 restaurants across America, for allegedly violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay minimum wage, failing to pay overtime wages and forcing waiters to work “off the clock” before or after their shifts.

Although the lawsuit only names two plaintiffs, they seek to represent potentially thousands of individuals who are current or former Darden employees from 2009 to the present.  According to the plaintiff’s, they are seeking millions of dollars in back pay and other compensation.

Darden spokesman, Jeff Richers, said in a statement that the company believes the claims “are baseless and fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business.”

However, this is not the first time Darden has been accused of violating labor laws. Last year, the company paid more than $27,000 in back pay and a $24,000 civil penalty for labor violations involving 109 current and former Red Lobster employees in Lubbock, Texas, as well as $25,000 in back pay and a $30,800 fine for labor violations involving Olive Garden employees in Mesquite, Texas.

Similar lawsuits are pending in Illinois and New York but this lawsuit filed in Miami is the first suit seeking to represent all Darden workers at its four major chains:  Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Long Horn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille. Its named plaintiffs are two Darden employees in Florida and Virginia.

The lawsuit was filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The claims against Darden include:

–       Servers showing up for shifts as scheduled but were not allowed to clock in until customers began arriving. Some were also forced to clock out and continue working without pay.

–       Employees who worked more than 40 hours per week were not paid 1.5 times their regular pay, as is required.

–       Tipped employees were told to refill salt and pepper shakers, roll silverware into napkins and vacuum for more than 20 percent of their work time. Such “side work” beyond 20 percent for tipped employees entitles them to at least minimum wage, which those employees otherwise do not usually get.

–       Exactly how much money is owed to the entire group of affected Darden workers is unclear.  The total number of employees involved exceeds 1,000.

Richers noted that neither of the two former employees filing the lawsuit ever brought their complaints to their supervisors’ attention.

He added that “each of our brands complies with all the federal and state labor and employment laws and we’re proud of our standing as an employer of choice.”  Darden ranked number 99 on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Places to Work for 2012. It also made the list last year, as well.

Most people complain about the servers in restaurants every now and then, but do you ever wonder what the servers think of us, as patrons? Or what the servers think of their managers?

One disgruntled waitress who was formerly employed at Red Lobster was so angry when she left her job, she started a website called The Stained Apron.  It is a place where wait staff can complain freely about their customers and their managers.  Regarding the recent lawsuit filed against Darden, she said, “These things need to be exposed and talked about. It’s not ‘baseless’ as they say. I think the employees will be successful.”

Waiters and waitresses earn minimum wage pay from the restaurant that employs them, because it is understood that they work for tips to supplement their pay. When they work overtime, they expect to be compensated appropriately at 1.5 times their regular pay. Additionally, when they are taken away from waiting tables to do menial chores, it costs them money, in the form of tips, which they depend on.

The company runs 2,000 restaurants with more than 185,000 employees and generates $8 billion in annual sales. They also own Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Eddie V’s and Yard House.

Do you think Darden would be successful without having a staff to serve their patrons in their 2,000 restaurants? If they continue to mistreat their employees and violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, their ranking on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Places to Work will definitely change.

Feel free to comment on this blog post. Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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