Grub Street Profile of Maimon Kirschenbaum: “Scourge of Restaurateurs”… or Champion of Hardworking Restaurant Employees?

Joseph & Kirschenbaum’s own Maimon Kirschenbaum was profiled extensively in a new article at Grubstreet.com: “Why Are New York’s Chefs Afraid of This Man?
Attorney Kirschenbaum has won a reputation for standing up against powerful restaurant interests and defending employees who’ve had their tips and overtime unfairly docked. But despite Kirschenbaum’s reputation as a “scourge” — someone who, in the words of Joe Bastianich, is “shaking the very foundation of Manhattan’s restaurant industry” — he comes off as modest and unassuming in the profile.

At just 34-years-old, Kirschenbaum is as precocious as he is relentlessness. His mother ran a kosher restaurant. So he grew up intimately familiar with how restaurants work (or should work). But he only graduated from law school eight years ago, and he claims that he “didn’t even know there were these kinds of cases [i.e. restaurant wage and hour cases] until 2006”!

Since then, he has been on a tear. To date, he’s filed nearly 200 lawsuits on behalf of New York restaurant employees. His targets read like a Zagat guide Top 20 list. They’ve included: Nobu, Philippe, Le Bernadine, BB King Blues Club & Grill, Jean Georges, Heartland Brewery, SD26, Balthazar, and Pastis. He’s collected over $40 million for his clients.

The Grub Street piece raises an essential question about the work: “depending on your point of view, he is either a modern-day Robin Hood, fighting for worker’s rights in a business full of corruption, or an ambulance chasing bully determined to put the city’s restaurants out of business.”

Obviously, we’re biased! We know that our and Kirschenbaum’s tactics have already precipitated enduring, positive changes in the NYC restaurant industry and hopefully beyond. After all, our firm is not “inventing the law” or making up allegations. We’re merely trying to help workers who often don’t understand their rights — or who may be overwhelmed by fear of retaliation, penury or ostracism — collect a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, precisely what they are entitled to under the law, no more and no less.

Strategic Approach to Stopping Bad Practices in the New York City Restaurant Industry

The Grub Street article outlined the typical process Kirschenbaum uses in his complaints. Three main types of violations occur at NYC restaurants:

1. Tip pool violations. Servers and other tipped employees are illegally forced to share their tips with non-tipped staff and managers.

2. Overtime pay violations. Workers are not adequately compensated for the hours they work.

3. Employees who work private parties
are often not paid all the tip money owed to them.

Kirschenbaum’s Tactics

Because the media follows Kirschenbaum and his suits, he can draw in many possible plaintiffs — catching potential defendants off-guard. Here’s how he explained the tactic: “by the time the defendant would hire a lawyer, I already have 35 plaintiffs signed on … so instead of their lawyer calling and saying, ‘you’ve got one guy, I’m going to offer him $15,000 to shut this thing down,’ it would be like, ‘okay, we’ve got 37 people: what are you going to do?’ They have to essentially settle it as a class action.”

Will the Lawsuits Change the Culture for the Better?

Will Attorney Kirschenbaum’s work have a long term positive resonance — not just on New York’s restaurant industry but on general workplace culture? This is a pivotal question.

To the extent that the restaurant industry cleans up its act — hews to New York Labor Laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act, e.g. — is to the extent that everyone benefits. Hopefully the lawsuits will usher in humane changes to the restaurant industry and drive similar changes in other industries, where wage theft may be common and even pathological. In fact, we have seen major changes in the industry already, and more workers are being paid what they are owed.

If you or someone you care about needs help with your New York wage and hour law case, get in touch with Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP for a free consultation. Call us at (212) 688-5640, or learn more about attorney Kirschenbaum and our team here at www.jhllp.com.