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Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay's Restaurants Allegedly Violated Labor Laws, According to Outten & Golden LLP

Forbes.com

A new lawsuit alleges that restaurants opened by celebrity chef Bobby Flay violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law by misappropriating employee tips, withholding proper overtime pay, and engaging in other unlawful compensation practices, according to Outten & Golden LLP.

Filed late Thursday in federal court in New York, the nationwide suit names as the defendant Bold Food, LLC - the company that owns and/or operates Bar Americain in New York, Mesa Grill NYC in New York, Mesa Grill Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nev., and Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., and formerly owned and/or operated Bolo in New York.

The named plaintiffs are current and former employees Patrick deMunecas, of Manhattan, N.Y., Kevin McIntyre, of Sunnyside, N.Y., and Carmen Costanzo, of Sunnyside, N.Y. In addition to the named plaintiffs, two other individuals have joined the case, which seeks to recover minimum wages, overtime compensation, and misappropriated tips and gratuities, for Mr. DeMunecas, Mr. McIntyre, Ms. Costanzo and other eligible employees.

According to the Complaint, Mr. Flay's company violated the wage and hour laws by engaging in improper tip-pooling practices; failing to properly distribute the "mandatory gratuities" it charged its private party customers; redistributing portions of employees' tips to non-tip eligible employees; failing to pay proper overtime compensation to employees who worked more than 40 hours in a work week; failing to reimburse workers for the cost of purchasing and laundering required uniforms, and failing to pay workers "spread of hour pay" for days on which they worked more than ten hours.

The suit also alleges that Bar Americain engaged in unlawful retaliation when it suspended one of the plaintiffs after he questioned the restaurant's tip pooling practices.

Justin M. Swartz, Linda A. Neilan, and Rachel Bien, of Outten & Golden LLP's New York office, represent the plaintiffs, and will seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action that covers current and former employees who have worked at the Flay's restaurants between January 15, 2003 and the date of final judgment in the matter.

Mr. Flay stars in several television programs, including Boy Meets Grill, Throwdown!, and Iron Chef America, all on the Food Network. He also frequently appears on other television programs, including as a contributor and "resident chef" on the CBS Early Show. Flay sells a line of "sauces and rubs" and eight cookbooks. He also serves as a celebrity spokesperson for retail giant Kohl's.

Attorney Justin M. Swartz stated, "Our clients have worked for Mr. Flay's company for years, helping him achieve tremendous fame and success. Their claims in this case suggest that, along the way, his restaurants have disregarded the most basic of their workplace rights.

Attorney Rachel Bien added, "In the future, we hope that Mr. Flay will use his star status to set a good example for other restaurant owners in honoring wage and hour protections. This lawsuit alleges that his company has not done so in the past. Hourly food service workers deserve to be paid properly - there is no exemption for high-profile TV celebrities."

The case is "Patrick deMunecas, Kevin McIntyre, Carmen Costanzo, et al. v. Bold Food, LLC," (Southern District of New York, Case No. 09 CIV 00440).

Attorney Contacts: Justin M. Swartz and Rachel Bien, Outten & Golden LLP, New York, NY, 212.245.1000