Wall Street Journal: More Employees Sue Restaurants in Wage Disputes

Ian Pajer-Rogers |


From The Wall Street Journal:

by Thomas MacMillan

Marie Sophie Jaafari spent more than five years checking hats and coats for patrons who regularly paid as much as a $75 prix fixe to dine on calf liver with lemon butter or veal kidneys in mustard sauce at Manhattan’s Le Périgord.

During that time, she received occasional paychecks from the 50-year-old French restaurant and usually earned just tips, she alleged in a lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Manhattan.

In the suit, Ms. Jaafari accused Le Périgord of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets wage and hour standards for employers. Georges Briguet, owner of the renowned restaurant, denied violating any laws and described Ms. Jaafari as a private contractor, not an employee.

The lawsuit is the latest in a growing number of legal actions targeting pricey and renowned New York City restaurants.

As New York prepares to increase the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 per hour and rolls out a statewide task force to combat worker exploitation, the recent flurry of litigation underscores how wage issues affect not only low-end restaurants but upscale eateries as well.

The number of wage-violation lawsuits has been on the rise for more than a decade, driven by a successful worker-organization movement, increased attention by plaintiffs’ attorneys and complicated labor laws that leave some employers confused, according to legal analysts and industry leaders.

Nationwide, these lawsuits have doubled in the last 10 years in federal courts. In New York state, such lawsuits have nearly tripled in the last six years, rising to 1,738 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, compared with 652 in fiscal year 2009, records show.

“The numbers are just scary,” said Carolyn Richmond, a lawyer with two decades of experience representing restaurants. “We started seeing this trend in 2005 and it’s never waned. It’s continued to go up exponentially every year.”

A 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Labor found that wage violations—concentrated mostly in the hospitality industry—result in between $10 million and $20 million of lost worker income a week in New York state.

Read the full article from The Wall Street Journal.