Waiters File Suit Against Pasta King Michael White

The Wall Street Journal - Sumathi Reddy
August 31, 2010

Italian giant Michael White  is the latest restaurateur to be slapped with a suit from employees seeking unpaid wages.

Three current servers at White’s upscale Italian Midtown restaurant Alto have filed suit against the chef in federal court, alleging that his partner Chris Cannon and their Altamarea Group violated state and federal labor laws by requiring the waitstaff to share tips with a general manager.

The suit also seeks full minimum wage for the employees. Under federal law, employees who earn tips can be paid a lower rate than employees who do not receive gratuities, provided that those workers retain the tips they earn. The suit alleges White and Cannon broke the law by distributing servers’ tips to a manager, thus entitling servers to be paid the full minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, up from $4.65 per hour.

The suit also alleges that the restaurant company broke state laws that require an extra hour of pay for employees who work 10 hours or more in one day and illegally deducted employees’ wages to pay for required uniforms and cleaning. Alto’s servers are required to wear jackets, which they purchase and maintain on their own, according to attorneys.

The employees’ attorneys, Outten & Golden LLP, are seeking to have the complaint certified as a class-action suit to cover all servers, captains, bussers and runners who worked at Alto between Aug. 30, 2004 and the date of the final judgment.

As one of the most successful restaurateurs in New York City, Chris Cannon should set an example for the entire restaurant community that it pays to treat your workers fairly and abide by the law, ” said attorney Rachel Bien in a statement. We hope this lawsuit will convince restaurant owners across New York CIty not to use employee tips to increase managers’ pay. ”

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The lawsuit follows a similar action  filed recently against Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. That suit alleges similar violations of employees at their West Village restaurant Babbo.

The Altamarea Group currently has three restaurants in New York City, including Marea and Convivo, and is due to open two more this fall.