Olive Garden, Red Lobster Workers Sue Alleging Unpaid Wages

Olive Garden wage lawsuit

By Curt Anderson

MIAMI -- Darden Restaurants Inc. violated federal labor laws by underpaying thousands of servers across the country at Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster and other eateries, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the workers.

The lawsuit filed in Miami federal court seeks to collectively represent current and past employees who worked for Darden from August 2009 to the present. It seeks potentially tens of millions of dollars in back pay and other compensation, plus interest and attorney fees, said lead lawyer David Lichter. "Darden has a companywide pattern and practice of paying its employees below minimum wage and less than what the law requires," Lichter said. "We're seeking not only to correct the wrongs that have occurred at Darden, but hopefully this will stimulate change across the country."

Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the allegations "fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business."

"Each of our brands complies with all federal and state labor and employment laws, and we're proud of our standing as an employer of choice," he said in an email.

The Orlando-based company's website said that it has more than 2,000 restaurants in North America that employ about 180,000 people. Darden does not franchise its restaurants.

More: Ask A Lawyer: How Can I Get Paid For Overtime?

The Department of Labor has found violations similar to those claimed in the lawsuit in several individual investigations, including a 2011 probe in which the company agreed to pay more than $25,000 in back wages to Olive Garden workers in Mesquite, Texas. Darden was also assessed a $30,800 fine in that case.

Also in 2011, Darden paid more than $27,000 in back pay and a nearly $24,000 civil penalty for labor violations involving 109 current and former Red Lobster workers in Lubbock, Texas, according to the Labor Department.

There are similar lawsuits pending in Illinois and New York, but the one filed in Florida is the first seeking to represent all Darden workers at its four major brands: Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille. Its named plaintiffs are two Darden workers in Florida and Virginia.

Jeffers said the company was unaware of the two employees' complaints prior to the lawsuit and neither of them had used an in-house program aimed at addressing employee disputes and concerns.

"We take any claims of impropriety seriously and we routinely investigate them," he said.

The lawsuit was filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Its claims against Darden include:
  • Servers showed up for shifts as scheduled but were not allowed to clock in until customers began arriving. Some also were forced to clock out and continue working without pay.

  • Employees who worked beyond 40 hours a week were not paid 1.5 times their regular pay as required.

  • Tipped employees refilled salt shakers, rolled silverware in napkins and vacuumed for more than 20 percent of their work time. Such "side work" beyond 20 percent for tipped employees entitles them to at least the minimum wage, which those employees otherwise do not usually get.
Attorneys said it was unclear how much money is owed to the entire class of affected Darden workers, which they expect to easily top 1,000 people.

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Good for them! When I was a legal secretary, I had to sue the famed lawyer, Melvin M. Belli, when he tried to stiff me on $2,000 he owed me for overtime. Took me two years, but I finally got every dime he owed me -- plus an extra $1,000 because I proved to the court that he'd lied about why he had failed show up for court and requested a continuance. I gave the $1,000 bonus to my lawyer, who had taken the case for free because he had a grudge against Belli. Winners all around!!

September 09 2012 at 11:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I stopped going to these poor quality places years ago, once they were sold and the new owners cheaped the menus quality. All I got was a hole in my wallet and indigestion. Double shame on them for not fairly paying their workers!

September 09 2012 at 10:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

my bf used to work at olive garden and said that all the allegations here happened to him as well. it was all commonplace.

September 09 2012 at 9:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

a wonderful a wonderful...

September 09 2012 at 8:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I like those restaurants and I spend a LOT of money with them throughout a year...but I do expect them to obey laws and pay their workers ANY money due them for hours...not to do so is illegal and shameful...and if they don't make this right...they will lose customers which equals MONEY...do the right thing.

September 09 2012 at 7:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jc2009USA's comment

this is just the beginning of the entitlement society and class warfare that Obama has been festering... It is totally without merit but between the attornies and the employees who want to scam the system they will get something out of it and we will all pay throug higher prices in the restaurant...

September 09 2012 at 8:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to saijjy's comment

I take it you will work for free with out merit ?

September 09 2012 at 9:10 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down

More of this will be goimg on when mitt/ryan gets into office they will kill off all government offices in the name of too big government an no one will have a chance to change anything or to get help even if you are in a Union ,How do you know they have no merit ??? ,the price gets to high at one restaurant people will go to anonther or stay home ,we have been victomized by big busineses,this is the WAR on WORKERS that the gop in running with ...

September 09 2012 at 11:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
Julian Sanchez

That's what happens with companies hire illegal immigrant for cheap labor. If they would had hired American citizens and pay them a decent wage non of this would have happen. Now, they're going to pay double for their greed!

September 09 2012 at 7:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Julian Sanchez's comment

no, this is what happens when you don't pay american citizens what you owe them. if they were illegals it would be in their best interest to shut their mouths if they want to stay in this country. maybe we should be paying waiters and waitresses more for the time they spend before and after serving tables, instead of making then solely rely on the tips they make. all restaurants do this kind of bullshit.

September 09 2012 at 11:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Just for your info in case you don't know, Darden restaurants is a minority owned business. Translation, BLACK. So you better think twice if you were thinking of commenting about White corporate greed in this instance. I live in Orlando, FL, and their headquarters are based here, so we often hear them on the news referred to as a minority owned business.

September 09 2012 at 7:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My husband and I have remarked just about each time we have found ourselves dining at Red Lobster (usually with friends who insist on Red Lobster because they know or have a relative who works there).........that it is amazing how the portion size seems to dwindle with each visit. We ordered an added offering of crab legs to go with child's menu meal, for our grand daughter and she is only 8 years old. She had to ask for something else to eat because she was still hungry although she ate all the crab legs by herself. Used to be great and plentiful but anymore, it is as though they think every customer is on a diet. We now avoid Red Lobster. And Olive Garden is way too expensive for "pasta". How much can it cost to boil some spaghetti and add some pre-made sauce?

September 09 2012 at 7:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I am a New Yorker by birth and I can remember when we didn't have any of these so called chain Restaurants ,which are really industrial food mills with canned good and cheap cuts of meat. They are at the very crux of the economic problems we face. Greedy corporate interests have ruined the Restaurant business's for small owners just like they ruin the quality of everything else. My husband was a manufacturer of stainless steel hospitality industry equipment. They ruined his business by importing cheap foreign inferior crapola and offering long term interest. As a small business we could not afford to compete with those terms. I want to know how come the government allowed this to happen. Now Sysco and companies like that have taken over every aspect of the business from food supplies to equipment, plus they use cheap inferior chefs instead of the real thing. Naturally they cheat their workers and pay minimum. Wake up America!!! Boycott these fillthy hell pits of disgrace.They are an imitation of life. Demand quality and top service. Frequent family owned or small business restaurants.

September 09 2012 at 7:37 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lindasmithsart's comment

Amen. I do and I will continue to.

September 10 2012 at 12:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most waitresses and waiters do everything involved with a restaurants workings yet are paid %.23 an hour for all of it while really only suppose to be paid that wage while waiting.. Approxamately 4 hrs of their work day or more deserve at least minimum wage or better..The ones who make the most are the ones who abuse the help the best and get away with intimidating and harrassing the help..Just sayin'

September 09 2012 at 7:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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