What Happens When a Restaurant Tries to Intimidate Its Employees Out of Joining a New York Class Action Lawsuit?

Would defendants in a New York wage and hour class action lawsuit ever dare to intimidate potential plaintiffs out of making a claim?

You might be thinking: that sounds like good fodder for a police procedural. But there’s no way actual restaurant owners, in our day and age, would engage in such backroom arm-twisting.

You might be surprised.

Consider a recent victory that the team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP, won on behalf of our clients, a group of restaurant employees. The plaintiffs said they were not paid proper overtime, and they brought a collective action against their popular New York City eatery for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Once the case was filed, employees at the restaurant had 60 days to opt-in to the class. It was a straightforward arrangement. However, during that 60-day period, “bad stuff” started to happen.

In November 2012, one plaintiff got summoned to meet with the restaurants owners — accompanied by their attorney. They interviewed him about whether he worked overtime (he said yes). A week and half later, the owner gave the man a piece of paper and told him to “read it quickly and sign it even quicker.”

The employee did so.

But guess what? Surprise surprise, the document contained language that misrepresented the employee’s position. Among other things, it said that the employee never worked overtime (when he did); that he released the defendants from claims (he didn’t); and that he did not want to be part of the wage and hour class action (he did).

The defendants denied these allegations – for instance, the owner said that he never told the employee to “review the document quickly and sign it even quicker.”

The Judge Responds

The judge said that, in cases like this, communications between defendants and potential members of a class action generally should not be restricted. But the court does have a responsibility to prevent misleading or coercive communications.

The judge ruled that it was “inherently coercive” for the owners to solicit employees to sign away the chance to claim unpaid wages.

He approved the plaintiffs’ request to extend the opt-in period for the class action by 30 days. He also ordered the defendants to notify the employees that they never waived their claims, even if they had signed the documents initially.

Positive Implications for Your Potential Case

Even if you’re dealing with a coercive or bullying employer — and you don’t quite have a handle on your rights and the relevant law — you may have far more resources available than you realize. The team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP can help you find an equitable resolution to your struggle. Find out more about how we work and what we do here at www.jhllp.com, or call us now to set up a free, confidential consultation: (212) 688-5640

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