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Outten & Golden Pushes For More Cash In Gristedes OT Suit

Law360—Richard Vanderford

Law firm Outten & Golden LLP said Monday that it deserves higher fees in connection with an employment suit it helped bring against grocery chain Gristedes, saying the company and owner John Catsimatidis repeatedly gave it the runaround even after the case settled.

Justin Swartz, a lawyer at the firm, said Gristedes should be ordered to cough up about $800,000 in additional fees in connection with a wage-and-hour lawsuit brought by the chain’s employees.

The 30-store chain, helmed by New York real estate magnate and mayoral candidate John A. Catsimatidis, continued fighting various aspects of the case on appeal after the action settled, claiming among other things that it had no money to pay a judgment, Swartz said at a conference before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty.

“These things are fairly extraordinary,” he said.

The suit dates back to 2004, when a former Gristedes employee sued on behalf of his colleagues.

The court granted class and collective certification in 2006. In 2008, it granted the plaintiffs’ partial summary judgment on liability, holding that Gristedes failed to pay class members overtime and had retaliated against two plaintiffs by filing frivolous counterclaims.

Gristedes eventually agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle the suit, which covered claims from 500 workers. A court later ordered it to pay another nearly $3.8 million in fees and costs to Outten, which represented plaintiffs, but it only actually turned over the money after intense legal wrangling, Swartz said.

The chain claimed it had no money to pay, until the court ruled that Catsimatidis himself could be tapped to pay the settlement.

Gristedes appealed that finding, and lost. 

It also appealed the fee award the court allotted to Outten, and lost that too. 

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Judge Crotty asked the two sides to go into mediation before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck and hold off any litigation on the fee issue for 60 days.

“Mr. Catsimatidis seems to like to draw things out,” Swartz said to reporters after the conference.

“If Mr. Catsimatidis did what he should have done, which was paid what he was supposed to, these fees would have not accrued,” he said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Justin Swartz of Outten & Golden LLP.

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The case is Torres v. Gristedes Operating Corp., case number 1:04-cv-03316, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.