Bloomberg News

Batali Agrees to $5.25 Million Server Tip Suit Accord

March 09, 2012

Mario Batali, the celebrity TV chef who compared bankers to Hitler and Stalin and criticized the financial industry for having “toppled the way money is distributed,” agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle allegations he cheated workers out of their tips.

Batali and his associate, Joseph Bastianich, made the agreement to resolve a group lawsuit brought on behalf of former and current workers at establishments that include Manhattan power restaurants Babbo and Del Posto, according to court papers filed in federal court in New York.

The workers sued Batali and Bastianich in July 2010, accusing them of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The employers pocketed gratuities equal to as much as 5 percent of nightly wine sales, didn’t pay the federal minimum wage and failed to pay overtime, according to the complaint.

“Mr. Batali, Mr. Bastianich, and their restaurants unlawfully confiscated a portion of their workers’ hard-earned tips in order to supplement their own profits,” employees said in their complaint.

The settlement agreement for the class-action, filed March 5, is subject to approval by a federal judge.

The accord may cover as many as 1,100 employees including servers, waiters and bartenders who work or worked at Babbo, Del Posto, Bar Jamon, Casa Mono, Esca, Lupa, Otto and Tarry Lodge dating back to 2004, according to court papers.

Tip Pool Deductions

A former bartender at Bar Jamon was told that 4 percent of the night’s wine sales was deducted from the tip pool each evening to cover the cost of sommeliers and expenses associated with the restaurant’s large wine selection, former Judge Richard J. Holwell wrote in a ruling last May. Other employees were told the deduction covered broken glassware and that “it was policy across the Batali restaurant group,” the judge wrote.

“The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” Rachel M. Bien, one of the employees’ lawyers, said yesterday by e-mail. A. Michael Weber, who represented Batali, declined to comment on the settlement.

Bastianich, son of public television cooking instructor Lidia Bastianich, had previously said that he intended to “fight this to every inch of the law, because we know we’re right,” in a July 2010 interview with Eater, a food-related blog.

Share of Settlement

The workers named in the suit, and those who joined the class, will receive a share of the settlement based on the number of hours they worked, the restaurant at which they were employed and the percentage of the total tips they received during their employment, according to court filings. The lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked to receive as much as a third of the settlement as legal fees.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis will oversee the remainder of the case, as Holwell has resigned to enter private practice.

Batali, who is often seen with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, taste-testing the culinary delights of Spain in their public television series “On the Road Again,” apologized for the comments about bankers the day after he made them in November following a call by financial industry executives for a boycott of his restaurants.

The case is Capsolas v. Pasta Resources Inc., 10-cv-05595, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).


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