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Olive Garden chain accused of failing to pay the minimum wage

Florida-based Darden Restaurants Inc., which operates the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse the Capital Grille and other full-service chain restaurants, has been accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. And, according to a federal lawsuit brought by current and former food servers, the company's illegal practices may affect wait staff nationwide.

Two current and former employees filed a collective action lawsuit because they believe they are representative of "at least thousands of individuals" who have worked at Darden Restaurants across the nation since at least 2009.

The first claim involves the FLSA's rules for tipped employees -- those who typically receive more than $30 a month in tips. Under the FLSA, these workers can legally be paid less than minimum wage through a "tip credit" system, subject to a number of regulations meant to prevent abuses.

Under one such regulation, the plaintiffs point out, workers who spend more than 20 percent of their time performing non-tipped work, such as food preparation or cleaning, cannot be paid the sub-minimum wage for time spent on those activities, which Darden allegedly did.

In addition, Darden's policies required employees to work before clocking in and to continue working after clocking out, and obliged them to work more than 40 hours without overtime pay.

Darden is a Fortune 500 company. It does not franchise in the U.S., but directly or through subsidiaries operates approximately 1,900 restaurants across the country. In 2010 and 2011, the company's restaurant operations generated sales in excess of $7 billion per year. It denies the allegations and accuses the plaintiffs of failing to attempt to resolve their wage and hour disputes through the company's internal dispute resolution process.

The plaintiff's attorney told reporters that, since the suit was filed, he has been contacted by numerous Darden food servers who may be interested in joining the suit.

FLSA violations that target low-wage tipped employees -- who are among our most poorly paid and vulnerable -- cannot be tolerated, he said.

"In these times, people are struggling to get by. They're entitled to earn at least the minimum wage."

The lawsuit seeks back pay for periods when the workers were not paid at all, when they were illegally paid less than the minimum wage, and when they were not paid appropriately for overtime work. The exact amount in damages the plaintiffs plan to seek has not been specified.

Sources:

  • Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Darden Restaurants hit with lawsuit over wages," Tom Brown, Sept. 6, 2012
  • Collective Action Complaint, Mathis and Hamilton v. Darden Restaurants, Inc., et al., Case No. 12CV61742, United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Sept. 6, 2012

Our law firm represents tipped employees and other workers involved in wage and hour disputes. For more information, see our website.

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