A workers’ rights nonprofit can receive the leftovers of a $5.25 million settlement that resolved a wage and hour lawsuit from waitstaff at Mario Batali’s New York City restaurants, a federal magistrate judge has ruled, rejecting the celebrity chef’s argument that the organization was ineligible because it previously worked with class counsel.
In a ruling issued Tuesday in New York federal court, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stewart Aaron said Make the Road New York can receive roughly $46,000 that went unclaimed in the settlement that ended a 2010 class and collective action brought by waitstaff at Batali’s restaurants. Judge Aaron said the nonprofit’s history with class counsel was not a conflict of interest as Batali had argued, but reflected the fact that it and the attorneys work on similar issues.
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Under the agreement, any unclaimed money in the settlement fund would go to a third party, known as a cy pres designee, subject to court approval. After two rounds of checks went out to class members, slightly more than $46,000 remained in the fund, but the two sides weren’t able to agree on a beneficiary, according to Judge Aaron’s order.
Class counsel suggested Make the Road New York as the recipient, saying the group’s workers’ rights advocacy, which includes training and litigation, aligns with the interests of the class. Batali and the companies instead proposed giving the money to either Bring Back Brooklyn or the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, saying in a letter earlier this week that Make the Road New York “is an organization that cannot benefit the class as a whole.”
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Judge Aaron rejected the arguments Tuesday, saying other judges on the same court have approved Make the Road New York as a cy pres designee in other cases and that its mission aligned with the workers’ interests. The same could not be said for the groups that Batali and the companies had suggested, which are associated with employer-side organizations like the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Judge Aaron said.
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The workers are represented by Denise Schulman and D. Maimon Kirschenbaum of Joseph Herzfeld Hester & Kirschenbaum, and Justin Swartz, Pooja Shethji and Rachel Bien of Outten & Golden LLP.
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