Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the New York restaurant ranked number 11 on the list of the world’s best restaurants, has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit for $2 million.
In 2016, employees and former employees sued Blue Hill at Stone Barns and its New York City sister establishment Blue Hill, for stealing wages and tips from workers. According to Eater New York, the complaint accused the restaurant of “tip pool mismanagement, illegal retention of service charges, and failure to pay overtime.” Blue Hill allegedly forced service employees to share tips with non-service employees, withheld private event service charges and did not abide by New York’s spread of hours rule.
Gratuities belong to employees. They are part of the wages of a regularly tipped worker. Under the law, employers may not keep any part of an employee’s tips for themselves. Nor may the employer require an employee to share tips with non-service workers. Many lawsuits against restaurants revolve around this issue and the question of whether a tip sharing or tip pooling arrangement complies with all legal requirements.
A restaurant cannot disguise a fee added to a bill as a “service charge” when it is really a gratuity. The law in New York is clear: when a service charge is added to a bill for a private party or dining event, the charge is considered a tip for the employees unless the customer is notified otherwise.
In other words, an employer may not keep a service charge added to a bill unless the customer is aware that the money is not for the employees.
The Hospitality Wage Order which applies to restaurants sets forth the spread of hours rule in New York. The rule states that an employee who works more than 10 consecutive hours in a workday shall receive an extra hour of pay at minimum wage. It is important to note that the length of time includes meal breaks, rest periods and any time off between shifts.
Eater New York reports that there are approximately 250 current and former hosts and hostesses, servers, runners, bartenders, bussers and back waiters who are eligible to partake of the settlement. The lead plaintiffs in the case will receive $25,000 each, one-third will go to the attorneys for the class, and the remaining eligible individuals will share the rest, less anyone who chooses to opt out of the settlement. Blue Hill, considered by many to be America’s best restaurant, is just one of a string of New York restaurants who, in recent years, have faced allegations of wage theft, tip theft and violations of overtime laws.
Although the settlement between the class and Blue Hill does not include any admission by the restaurant that it violated the rights of its employees, the workers will be able to collect the wages that rightfully belong to them and move on. With any luck, as more and more restaurants find themselves defending wage theft lawsuits, others will take steps to ensure that their employees receive proper wages and that their businesses comply with applicable laws.
If you are an employee of a restaurant in New York City or Long Island, we hope that you are getting the wages legally owed to you. If not, the unpaid wage attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. are taking cases to recover money for restaurant workers. We may be able to help you and your co-workers secure unpaid tips, minimum wage, overtime pay and other monies that you are owed.
You can reach Leeds Brown 24/7 by calling 1-800-585-4658. Your consultation is free so reach out today and find out how we can help you collect your unpaid wages.