Another day, another restaurant refusing to provide minimum wages and overtime to hard working New Yorkers.
In a September 2017 press release, New York Attorney General (AG) Eric T. Schneiderman (Schneiderman) announced that the owner and manager of Southampton’s Princess Diner have been arrested and indicted for numerous wage and hour violations. Charges against the diner, located at 32 Montauk Highway on Long Island, resulted from an investigation by the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) and the AG’s Office. Since taking on the role of AG in 2011, Schneiderman has focused heavily on recouping stolen wages for workers in New York. To date, his office has secured nearly 30 million dollars of unpaid wages for close to 20,000 employees.
As reported in a press release by the Attorney General’s Office, John Kalogeras, the restaurant’s manager and Richard Bivona, its owner, face thirteen counts of “Failure to Pay Wages in accordance with the Labor Law,” harassment, and miscellaneous felonies and misdemeanors. In all, there are 35 counts in the indictment.
When employees put in more than 40 hours in a work week, they have the right to receive overtime pay. Overtime pay is 1 ½ times the regular rate of pay. There are some exemptions to this rule, but they apply primarily to salaried, white-collar employees who have administrative, professional and executive roles.
The AG’s Office investigation revealed that none of the eligible employees at Princess Diner, including dishwashers, cooks, servers, and bussers received overtime pay for a four-month period in 2016. “Despite regularly working more than forty hours per week,” the employees received no premium for working overtime.
In addition to overtime pay, employees also have the right to receive basic minimum wages. Minimum wage in New York is higher than the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. On Long Island, the minimum wage increased to $11.00 per hour on December 31, 2017. Tipped workers, individuals who collect at least $30.00 per month in tips, earn what is called the “tipped minimum wage.” The federal tipped minimum wage is at least $2.13 per hour. On Long Island, the tipped minimum wage for an employee in food service is $7.50 per hour. Employers are permitted to include a $3.50 tip credit to equal the standard minimum wage. For tipped workers, employers must pay overtime hours worked at time-and-one-half the minimum wage rate, less the applicable tip credit.
The indictment against Princess Diner, Bivona, and Kalogeras, contains allegations that the workers received less than the legal minimum wage. It also claims that there were times the employees did not receive pay on a weekly basis. Some weeks, they received no payments at all.
According to the investigation, the AG’s Office learned that the employees waited to get paid, while Bivona and Kalogeras made several promises that their money was coming. “Payment was sporadic or never came at all.” The indictment claims that Bivona and Kalogeras intimidated and threatened the employees and their families if they tried to collect or inquire about their wages.
Criminal laws make such harassment illegal. Labor Laws also prohibit employers from threatening and harassing employees for trying to assert their rights to collect legal wages. This behavior is called retaliation. A spokesperson for SEPA Mujer, a grassroots organization supporting the rights of Latina immigrants, told the East End Beacon that in addition to being victims of wage theft, the employees at Princess Diner faced ongoing sexual and racial harassment.
Bivona and Kalogeras face charges of scheming to fraud, failure to secure worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance, and grand larceny in addition to the thirteen counts of failure to pay wages. The thirteen employees, according to the prosecutors, are entitled to collect $82,000 in unpaid wages.
Attorney General Schneiderman stated “A worker’s most basic right is the right to be paid for his or her work. These defendants allegedly engaged in a long-running scheme to not only steal their employees’ hard-earned money but to intimidate and harass their victims when they attempted to speak up. We will not allow New York workers to be exploited and demeaned.”
Perhaps the Defendants will arrange a plea deal with the prosecutors that will result in immediate restitution to the employees. Maybe the charges will be hashed out in court and evaluated by a jury. With any luck, the employees will soon receive the overtime and minimum wages for which they have been waiting along with any other remedies the court sees fit to award.
If you work in a restaurant like Princess Diner on Long Island or in New York City, contact Leeds Brown Law, P.C. for help collecting unpaid wages. Our attorneys have over 20 years of experience handling a broad range of wage and hour cases including unpaid overtime, tip-theft, and minimum wage violations. When your employer owes you wages, you have options. Speaking with lawyers at Leeds Brown can help you determine the best way to proceed to achieve the results you want.
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