Do Servers at New York’s Finest Parties Deserve to Keep their Tips? 3 Key Lessons from a Prominent New York Wage and Hour Case

In 2008, the team at Joseph & Kirschenbaum fought for the rights of servers in a complex class action lawsuit unusual in that it was heard in state court, not federal. It involved one of the most conspicuously celebrated restaurants in Manhattan. We will not reveal the name and location of this eatery, but understand that it was (and is) a prominent establishment — the site of many a celebrity wedding, tony cocktail party, and gala soirée.

Sadly, for all the restaurant’s luster, many servers wound up with the short end of the stick.

In violation of New York law, the Defendant knowingly and willfully retained servers’ tips, when the servers worked at special parties. The hosts of these events generally paid a fixed gratuity to the restaurant, which should have, by law (and also by moral imperative), been distributed to the hardworking servers who catered to the guests.

All told, the class suffered damages in excess of $100,000 – that’s without counting fees, costs, interest, and disbursements. Our law firm brought a class action, pursuant to New York Civil Practice Law & Rules Article 9, for all the employees and promoters who had worked for the restaurant within six years prior to the complaint’s filing.

The class action met necessary standards:

• Ascertainability
• Numerosity
• Typicality
• Adequacy
• Superiority
If those terms seem overly “legalistic,” here’s the gist: to develop and win a class action, you must abide by highly specific rules, parameters and procedures. Our class met all of those.

Lessons for You
Lesson #1: No company, no matter how powerful or how well respected, is above the law.

Sadly, many victimized restaurant workers have no idea how much leverage NY state and federal law provide them. Getting beyond the “intimidation factor” is hard, but not impossible. As a server, bartender, barback, cook, or other restaurant employee, you deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity, and the law can be a powerful ally.

Lesson # 2: You don’t have to battle for fairness and justice on your own.

If you’ve been subjected to an unfair situation at your restaurant, odds are that you are not the only person in the history of that restaurant who’s had similar complaints! Even if none of your fellow employees will admit their misgivings to you, don’t take the lack of grumbling as a sign that you’re isolated.

Lesson # 3: Help from a competent New York wage and hour law firm can be invaluable, both for your pocketbook and your soul.

Why are we here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum so passionately committed to ensuring the rights of workers? The answer is simple: we believe that our quest is important — a chance to play a small role in making the world more fair. It is a true joy to help struggling restaurant workers (and other laborers) resolve and get past mistreatment and frustration.

We can help you with your quest for justice. Find out more about us at www.jhllp.com or call for a free consultation at (212) 688-5640.