Orlando-based Darden Restaurants was sued today in federal court over allegations it failed to pay proper wages or overtime pay to employees who work for tips. The company owns seven restaurant brands, including Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster, and the Capital Grille.
The lawsuit, seeking back pay and other compensation, is representing Darden’s current and former servers at the company’s 2,000 restaurants nationwide. The servers claim they were required to perform work while off-the-clock. They say they were required to report to work and handle various functions, but were not allowed to clock-in until their first customer arrived.
The servers also claim they were required to continue working on assigned tasks even after they punched out of Darden’s time card system.
Two servers, Amanda Mathis and James Hamilton, say Darden paid them wages below the minimum wage because they were tipped employees, but required them and other servers to perform tasks that don’t generate tips, such as general maintenance, cleaning, and prep work. Mathis and Hamilton say that Darden owes them the full minimum wage for the non-tipped work.
The lawsuit also claims servers routinely weren’t paid overtime despite working more than 40 hours a week.
Filed today in Miami, the lawsuit represents all Darden servers from August 2009 to the present.
Rich Jeffers, Darden spokesman released a statement, saying that Darden "takes any claims of impropriety seriously and we routinely investigate them. However, this is the first time we have heard about these claims. We have a robust Dispute Resolution Program designed to quickly and effectively address all employee concerns. We have no record of either of these two individuals utilizing that process."
Jeffers continues, saying "As for the allegations contained in the complaint, we believe they are baseless and fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business. Each of our brands complies with all federal and state labor and employment laws, and we’re proud of our standing as an employer of choice."