Class-Action Lawsuit Against Darden Restaurants

Attorneys for the plaintiffs today announced their filing of a collective action lawsuit against Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service restaurant group, alleging servers were paid less than the minimum wage and were not compensated for time they were required to work off the clock. This is the first collective action lawsuit filed seeking nationwide relief for servers against all of Darden’s primary brand names, including The Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

Darden, a Fortune 500 company with restaurant sales exceeding $7.5 billion in 2011 and $7.1 billion in 2010, employs about 168,000 workers at the approximately 1,900 restaurants it owns and operates in the U.S. and Canada.

The suit was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on behalf of Amanda Mathis, a Florida resident and former server at several Longhorn Steakhouse locations in Florida and Georgia, and James Hamilton, a Virginia resident and former Olive Garden server in Georgia. It alleges that Darden violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by paying many of its servers below the applicable minimum wage, which can be as low as $2.13 per hour for tipped work (such as waiting tables) and $7.25 an hour for non-tipped work, and by failing to pay overtime.  Servers were required to work off the clock at both the beginning and end of their shifts, and as a result they were not paid for all the time they were required to work.  In addition, many servers were improperly paid tipped wages ($2.13 per hour) when they were performing non-tipped work, such as refilling dispensers, rolling silverware, and cleaning.

“The Fair Labor Standards Act provides employees the ability to join forces in a ‘collective action’ and seek justice from large corporations that they could not afford to bring on their own,” said David Lichter, a co-founder and partner of Higer Lichter & Givner, one of the law firms representing plaintiffs in this case. “These victims are struggling to get by, and this lawsuit provides Darden Restaurants’ current and former servers the opportunity to join together and seek back wages and overtime that Darden unjustly denied them. We hope Darden Restaurants will do the right thing by its servers and pay the moneys owed to them for their work.”

“We also hope that by bringing these issues to light, that we will help motivate other restaurant companies to do right by their employees and pay their servers the wages they deserve and are entitled to receive according to the law,” Lichter added.

Technically, the lawsuit filed is a “collective action,” which by and large resembles a “class action” lawsuit with the exception that in collective actions, plaintiffs must “opt in” to join the lawsuit, while in a class action, they must opt out if they don’t wish to be included. In this case, the suit asks the court to require Darden to send notices to all of its employees informing them of their right to opt in to the collective action.

All current or former servers at Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, or The Capital Grille restaurants employed at any time from August 2009 to the present may learn about the resources and legal options available to them and participate in this case by visiting <> . Co-counsel for the plaintiffs are from three law firms with extensive experience in class-action litigation: Trief & Olk, in New York; Higer Lichter & Givner, in Miami; and Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf, in New Jersey.

About Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf
Founded in 1924, Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP is dedicated to the general practice of law at the highest level of professional competence, striving to achieve maximum benefit for its clients in the most efficient and professionally responsible manner. The firm has a wide-ranging litigation practice at both the trial and appellate levels of the federal and New Jersey state court systems, having successfully litigated cases up through and including the United States Supreme Court.

About Higer Lichter & Givner
Higer Lichter & Givner (HLG) is an AV-rated law firm whose attorneys have extensive experience representing Fortune 500 companies, governmental entities and individuals in a broad spectrum of legal matters. The firm’s key practice areas include: litigation, real estate, corporate law, dispute resolution, intellectual property, insurance, cyber law and social media law. HLG, based in Aventura, FL, has quadrupled since it was founded in 2006 and attributes its growth to its ability to provide clients with the first-rate service that larger firms offer along with the client-centered attention that only a boutique firm can provide.

About Trief & Olk
Trief & Olk is a five-attorney law firm with offices in New York, NY, and Hackensack, NJ. The firm offers a wide variety of legal services, emphasizing civil litigation and class actions. It was founded in 1987 by Ted Trief and Barbara E. Olk, who each have worked more than 30 years in the legal profession.