While stealing in general is indicative of a callous disregard for the dignity and sovereignty of others, theft in the workplace is particularly egregious because of the element of assumed trust, especially when an employer steals from hardworking, low paid employees.
In the restaurant business, it’s a time-honored tradition that the sanctity of tips as an inviolable store of wealth is off limits to even the most larcenous members of a restaurant crew.
So when celebrity chef Mario Batali, and his business partner Joseph Bastianich, ordered waitresses, bartenders, busboys and kitchen runners to dole out their tips to people other than those working as part of the support crew, they decided to file a law suit and won.
Bear in mind that in most restaurants, the wait staff already tip busboys and bartenders, while bartenders tip bar backs, and busboys tip dishwashers, and so on.
But in this case, for example, in one instance a percentage of tips given to servers was used to pay sommeliers’ salaries.
Additionally, Batali and Bastianich were accused of cheating employees out of wages and overtime. Many claimed the multimillionaire owners refused to pay them the minimum wage — and forced them to work more than 40 hours a week.
The Daily News reported the case against Batali and Bastianich was filed in 2010 by Stephanie Capsolas and Hernan Alvarado, a waitress and a kitchen runner at Babbo.
Capsolas claimed she was harassed after she sued.
“I have found the word ‘rat’ written on my locker at work,” she said in court papers.
More than a hundred other workers at Batali’s and Bastianich’s restaurants then joined in the suit.
When the workers sued, Bastianich called it a “shakedown” and sardonically thanked some of the staff who took him and Batali to court.
He also discouraged other workers from joining the suit, saying, “Only the lawyers make money on these lawsuits,” the court papers state.
Batali agreed to a $5.25 million payment to the captains, waiters and other workers at his restaurants who claimed they were swindled out of their tips.
According to court papers, two-thirds of the settlement was shared by 1,100 workers from bartenders to busboys at posh Manhattan eateries like Babbo, Bar Jamon, Casa Mono, Del Posto, Esca, Lupa and Otto, and Tarry Lodgein Port Chester.
The rest went to the plaintiffs lawyers.
And as The Daily News pointed out, this is not an isolated case.
Previously, the biggest settlement for tip theft was the $3.9 million paid by the Shelly Fireman’s Restaurant group, which owns Trattoria Dell’Arte, Cafe Fiorello, Fireman’s of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Diner USA, Redeye Grill and Shelly’s New York.
And Sparks Steakhouse had to pay out $3.1 million for the same practice, as did the Nobu restaurants, who settled with their workers for $2.5 million