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A kind of proletariat fever appears to be sweeping through some of New York's finest restaurants. Forget picket lines, though. These workers are dragging their celebrity-chef bosses to court.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, famed Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is the latest in a string of prominent restaurateurs to face lawsuits alleging violations of state and federal labor laws. A former employee of his New York City restaurant, Morimoto, is filing suit for depriving him of tip money. A similar suit was also filed this week against chef Chris Cannon and his business partner, Michael White, purveyors of such choice cuisine as salt-cod rigatoni and swordfish-belly confit at their three-star eateries Alto, Convivio and Marea.
This comes a month after the city's seemingly most indefatigable gastronome, Mario Batali, was slapped with a federal suit by two employees who claim they were cheated out of their tips while working at Batali's flagship restaurant, Babbo. That suit has morphed into a class-action affair, with nearly 20 more angry ex-employees piling on.
Although the allegations vary, the suits generally seek unpaid wages and tips, often claiming that workers did not receive sufficient overtime pay and that their tips were improperly distributed.
"Small-, medium-, and large-sized operators have the best of intentions to comply with all the labor laws, but they are fearful that a small mistake related to a complex labor law could potentially result in a suit," one industry insider told the Wall Street Journal.
But others aren't so charitable.
As Cynthia Estlund, a professor at the New York University School of Law, put it: "I think there are a lot of practices in the restaurant industry that were going on for a long time that were ripe for litigation."