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Celeb chef Mario Batali sued by workers at Manhattan restaurant Babbo for stingy wages, tip-gouging

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Has anyone from the area heard anything about this?

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2...

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  1. Interesting take on this in a WSJ blog.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/metropolis/2010/...

    The articles says the attorney for the workers is "well-known for filing such cases against restaurants.." Almost sounds as though the attorney set out to find workers at Babbo who could be talked into doing what the attorney wanted to do.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      Or, the attorney (Mr Kirschenbaum) is someone selected for this case precisely because he has experience in the field. It would be interesting to have the timeline given that they seem to be interested in expanding this into a class-action suit, but this sort of thing is hardly unheard of in the restaurant business-- withholding salary and the inevitable law suits/protests that follow.

      1. re: Lizard

        A google search shows that Nobu settled out of court and paid out $2.5m and Jean Georges for $1.75m ( includes more than $583,000 in lawyers' fees). This doesn't mean they are guilty but in my mind they probably were but it also shows the attorney probably isn't doing this just to help the oppressed.

      2. re: JoanN

        This is like the attorneys that chase asbestos claims---bottom feeders. Anyone who becomes "too successful" in America today is a target for these creeps.

      3. I still think waiters and waitresses put up with a lot of bad and I don't agree that they should be paid below minimum wage, that is just not right. These people work and if they do a good job customers leave them tips which they should get.

        Mario Batali sure doesn't need the extra money

        5 Replies
        1. re: dolly52

          Waiters and waitresses are notorious for cheating on their taxes by under reporting their tip income.

          1. re: dave_c

            Wait let me fix this for you, Everyone that thinks they can get away with it is notorious for cheating on their taxes by under reporting their tip income.

            Even Tim Geithner underpaid until he was caught. This has nothing to do with occupation, race, social class, politcal affiliation or anything else.

            1. re: dave_c

              If a waitperson cheats on his/her taxes, that is between him/her and the IRS, and has nothing to do with the legality or ethics of a restaurant owner/manager/head chef taking a cut of earned tips.

              1. re: dave_c

                My comment reference their earnings and what they are entitled to, if they cheat on their taxes, well they must be held accountable for that just like everone else. To shortchange them on their actual earnings because they are known to cheat on their taxes is just a bunch of Cr__.

                1. re: dave_c

                  "cheating on their taxes by under reporting their tip income"

                  -how much can people in the food industry squirrel away by under-reporting gratuity?
                  -how much does batali make per appearance in tv or social event? how much of that is reported?
                  -how much do bank execs get as bonuses after a bail-out from the federal government?

                  should waiting staff be penalized when what they under-declare is hardly a percent of what the true financial criminals in america get away with? are we condemning the right criminals?

              2. It seems like this should be worked out by the labor department, not some multi-million dollar lawsuit.

                2 Replies
                1. re: maxie

                  Agreed. I know sometimes it takes the involvement of an attorney to get something done, but this really does seem like a matter for the labor department.

                  1. re: maxie

                    The dept of labor can help with fixing the on going problem, but it's going to take a lawyer and civil suit if the workers want to recoup their tip earnings.

                  2. I wonder if it includes kitchen staff. Mr. S has experienced high end restaurants expecting a lot of unpaid hours from their kitchen staff. Especially from junior staff who feel they have to do it for a chance to be in a top kitchen.

                    1. "The famed eatery pays an hourly rate below minimum wage, forces employees to work more than 40 hours a week and to work days that last more than 10 hours, the suit says."

                      Boo hoo hoo. Who are these people? If they don't want to work long hours they chose the wrong industry.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: babette feasts

                        Agreed. The high end restaurant is not a place for money and free time craving cooks to work at

                        1. re: babette feasts

                          100% agree with you.

                          They're working in a restaurant for f**ks sake. I worked in the biz for 3 years as a cook after graduating cooking school. The ONLY time I had a 40 hour week was when I worked at a hotel that was unionized. All the other places, I worked 10-12 hours day, 6 days a weeks and every holiday. That's to be expected. Cooking and/or working in restaurants is not glamorous work. If you don't like the hours after a week, quit, and find something else.

                          1. re: duckfat73

                            Maybe they wouldn't have had a problem with those hours if they had actually been paid for them,..

                            1. re: iluvtennis

                              Well who knows for sure what the lawsuit says. All I'm saying is that they shouldn't be complaining about working long hours in a lawsuit.

                              If, however, they're not getting paid time and half for anything over a standard work week and/or tips are being withheld from them, well then they have every right to sue.

                              1. re: duckfat73

                                Exactly. If I could sue my employer every time I was sore after a long day in the kitchen I would have been able to retire years ago.

                                1. re: duckfat73

                                  Oooops...i think i was getting this lawsuit confused with the one filed in the upper crust deal, which seemed to have merit. Yeah, i agree with you on this one. It sounds like what they describe in the lawsuit is pretty standard restaurant practice.

                            2. re: babette feasts

                              Look at the medical Interns who had to work long hours. Now, cooking is not surgery, but working long days will take a toll. Why is it necessary? This country instituted the 40 hour work week for the health and welfare of its workers.

                              1. re: pdxgastro

                                i guess the 'ideal' waiting staff for some celebrity chefs are 'heroic' types who don't mind if the boss decides whether they deserve tips or not. forty-plus hours a week with no tips at less than minimum wage? if they want to work for batali, maybe that's what they have to contend with. after all, he is the greatest chef in the history of all mankind (chuckles).

                                how many michelin stars for babbo?

                                1. re: epabella

                                  To be fair, "less than minimum wage" is what servers legally make in NY and most other states - a legally mandated hourly pay rate for tipped servers that is less than the general federal minimum. I doubt that is part of the lawsuit, for it wouldn't have legal merit. Tip skimming is one thing, and may be a complaint with merit, but taking a job that pays what's legally mandated per hour is the servers' choice.

                                2. re: pdxgastro

                                  Before I retired, I was an engineer with a very large company. My co-workers and me were expected to give the company "casual overtime" up to 59 .9 minutes a day, as terms of our continued employment. None of us saw fit to challenge this requirement.

                              2. So two employees work at the restaurant for 2.5 and 5 years, respectively, decide it is now time to file a lawsuit? They worked there how long? I guess I thought this was the good-ole-USA, where you can choose where you'd like to work. If I worked somewhere I thought was treating me unfair, I'd move on. Quickly.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: UptownKevin

                                  I don't really trust the original article at all when it blasts Batali for not paying the minimum wage to those waiters.

                                  Its not illegal to pay waiters less than the minimum wage because its widely understood that tips will make up for that where that total of tips and wage will exceed the minimum wage. But, in cases where the tips don't make for it, that's when the restaurant has to pay the minimum wage.

                                  And, in all likelihood, those waiters were raking it in with tips, far exceeding minimum wage and what the cooks were earning.

                                  1. re: hobbess

                                    "Its not illegal to pay waiters less than the minimum wage because its widely understood that tips will make up for that"

                                    it's widely understood that one can get sued if one misunderstands ethical labor practices. perhaps if batali provided his waiting staff this employment policy in writing right before they started bussing tables.

                                    1. re: epabella

                                      Batali may or may not have violated labor practices, but not paying minimum wage isn't one of them if their tips exceeds the minimum wage. That's the law. That's why I took exception with the OP article when it conflates with what's legal with what's illegal.

                                2. Was reminded of this thread two days ago while reading an op-ed piece in the NYTimes by Tim and Nina Zagat. Turns out to be a pretty complicated issue and hard to determine who's right and who's wrong according to the law. Interesting that the restauranteurs feel they have no option but to settle.

                                  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/opi...

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: JoanN

                                    Regretably with our system, sometimes people do settle who haven't done anything. I had this experience with someone filing a claim with my insurance company claiming I dinged their car. I didn't but as the insurance company said to me [I was REALLY indignant], its he said she said and it costs more to defend than to pay.

                                    As far as restaurant work goes, I think we should move to a system like in europe where wait staff is paid a living wage and gratuity is included in the bill. But thats just me.

                                    1. re: jenn

                                      Regretably with our system, sometimes people do settle who haven't done anything.
                                      ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                      That may be true but no one settles for 5.25 Million as a nuisance suit. The only reason you settle the largest claim ever of this type in the state is because your liability at trial could be many times greater. Taking money out of the tips is just wrong on every level.

                                      http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                                      http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31749_162...