Mario Batali Agrees to $5.25 Million Settlement Over Employee Tips

New York Times - Benjamin Weiser
March 7, 2012

The celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali and a business partner have agreed to pay $5.25 million to resolve a lawsuit filed on behalf of waiters, captains and other employees who claimed that his restaurants had illegally confiscated part of their tips to supplement their profits, court papers show.

The proposed class-action settlement, which must be approved by a judge, could cover about 1,100 employees, including servers, busboys, runners and bartenders who worked at the restaurants, in some cases as far back as 2004, according to a filing made Monday in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The suit is similar to others that have been brought in the past few years claiming labor violations by high-profile chefs and restaurants in New York and elsewhere.

The lawsuit against Mr. Batali, filed in 2010, said that he and a partner, Joseph Bastianich, and their restaurants had a policy of deducting an amount equivalent to 4 to 5 percent of total wine sales at the end of each night from the tip pool and keeping the money.

One bartender was told that it was a policy across the Batali restaurant group ” and that the money went to the house, ” a judge, Richard J. Holwell, wrote in a ruling last May. At Tarry Lodge, in Port Chester, N.Y., a spreadsheet divided a night’s tips among waiters and documented a 4 percent deduction, Judge Holwell noted. At one staff meeting, an executive refused to justify the policy and said it was not going to change, ” the judge wrote.

Other Batali restaurants named in the suit included Babbo, Del Posto, Casa Mono, Bar Jamón, Esca, Lupa and Otto, all in Manhattan.

Rachel Bien, a lawyer for the employees, and Carolyn D. Richmond, a lawyer for Mr. Batali, issued identical statements Wednesday, saying, The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. ”

The lawyers for the plaintiffs may receive up to one-third of the settlement as legal fees, if the court approves, the papers show. The defendants admit no wrongdoing.