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TGI Friday's Workers Want Ruling On Wage Statement Claims

Law360—Matthew Bultman

TGI Friday’s workers who say they were underpaid asked a New York federal judge Thursday to rule on a handful of claims related to wage notices and statements in their collective action, telling the court this part of the dispute was ripe for a decision.

Five New York workers and a handful of opt-in plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking a favorable ruling regarding four claims under the state's labor law that they say entitle low-wage workers to information about their compensation.

Though TGI Friday’s said before it was too soon for such a ruling, the workers told U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres that each of them had already been deposed and no more discovery was necessary.

“These claims can be adjudicated by examining [the restaurant chain's] own documents and interpreting the relevant provisions of the [New York labor law],” they wrote. “They do not require the court to decide any fact disputes.”

The suit, filed last April against Friday's and former parent company Carlson Restaurants Inc., brought nationwide collective action Fair Labor Standard Act claims and New York labor law class claims on behalf of thousands of employees.

It claimed tipped workers have to do non-tip-producing work like cleaning, food preparation and stocking, and therefore are owed minimum wage and overtime.

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The workers notified the court in August they planned to ask it to rule in their favor on certain claims under the state labor law. Among other things, they contend TGI Friday’s wage statements didn’t comply with New York law. They also claim the restaurant chain did not provide written tip credit notices to many of its tipped workers.

“Carlson has no excuse for failing to comply with these straightforward requirements because it knew about them and because the relevant statutes, regulations, and wage orders contain examples of compliant notices, which Carlson could have used,” the workers said Thursday.

TGI Friday’s has called the motion premature, telling the court in a letter Sept. 24 that it had not yet able to conduct sufficient discovery “and should not be prejudiced by being required to respond to the motion prematurely.”

The workers responded a week later, arguing the matter was, in fact, ready for a ruling.

“These five plaintiffs and opt-in plaintiffs believe that they have produced all relevant documents in their possession and will supplement their production if they locate additional documents,” they wrote Oct. 1.

The workers’ bid for summary judgment comes after they appeared to have resolved a dispute with TGI Friday’s over a proposed $1.9 million settlement with respect to federal labor law claims in a similar worker lawsuit in Massachusetts state court.

That case had been strictly been a state-law action but was expanded to include FLSA claims for settlement. The settlement notice initially stated that class members could opt into the federal case but that they would release their federal claims if they cashed their state settlement checks.

In their filing Thursday, the workers in New York said they have since been able to convince TGI Friday’s to carve out the FLSA rights of workers who join their case while still allowing them to collect Massachusetts settlement awards.

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The workers are represented by Justin M. Swartz, Sally J. Abrahamson and Chauniqua D. Young of Outten & Golden LLP and Joseph A. Fitapelli, Brian S. Schaffer and Frank J. Mazzaferro of Fitapelli & Schaffer LLP.

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The case is Flood et al. v. Carlson Restaurants Inc. et al., case number 1:14-cv-02740, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.