Lawyer Maimon Kirschenbaum is the scourge of restaurateurs, having brought cases against Nobu, Jean Georges, B.B. King, Heartland, Balthazar (all of which have ended in settlements) as well as Bouley and others which haven't yet been resolved, for paying managers and other staff out of waiters' tip pools. Now he's found a new set of clients: cater waiters. Kirschenbaum filed a class-action lawsuit against Le Cirque in federal court this afternoon on behalf of waiters who work private parties, alleging that the management charges party hosts mandatory gratuities, often called "service charges," of as much as 20 percent, then doesn't pass the money on to the servers, depriving them of tips.
Kirschenbaum has also filed class-action lawsuits against the Central Park Boathouse and Chelsea Piers' Pier Sixty, in state and federal court, respectively, alleging the same violations. In New York State, tipped workers earn a minimum wage of just $4.60 per hour, as compared to the standard minimum wage of $7.15 per hour.
At Pier Sixty, Kirschenbaum says, the situation is compounded by the fact that servers aren't allowed to accept tips during the course of a private party. "If you're really drunk at a wedding and you pull out a $100 bill and hand it to them, they're instructed to tell you, 'The host of this party has already given a gracious gratuity and I'm going to have to reject it,'" Kirschenbaum says. Pier Sixty could not be reached for comment.
"This lawsuit is just another example of the drive-by litigation sweeping the nation: Shoot first, ask questions later," says Boathouse lawyer Carolyn Richmond, who asserts that her client has paid all wages owed to its servers. A spokesperson for Le Cirque said the lawsuit had just been brought to her attention and the restaurant did not yet have a response.
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