Restaurant owner implicated in sexual harassment case

He said she said. Investigators say that sexual harassment cases can sometimes be reduced to those four simple words, largely because sexual assault can take place in a private area without witnesses. A former hostess at a restaurant in Coral Gables, Florida, is alleging that her supervisor sexually accosted her after a shift.

The woman, who was 18 at the time of the assault, claims that the man groped her breast and attempted to force himself on her as he accompanied her to a parking garage. Authorities report that a criminal case is unlikely to gain traction because there were no witnesses to the crime, so the woman’s only recourse is to file a lawsuit. Attorneys report that the woman is seeking $1.5 million in damages.

The woman had only worked at the restaurant for two weeks in early 2012 when the alleged incident occurred. Her lawsuit states that her boss sexually abused, assaulted and harassed her.

Police have not filed any charges in the case because the case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, according to the woman’s attorney. Authorities admit that the woman submitted allegations against the man shortly after the incident occurred, but they could not indict the man on such tenuous charges.

Although it is unfortunate that the criminal system has failed this woman, the civil courts can provide her with financial redress for the wrongs she has suffered. The woman is suing for sexual harassment, but she could also be seeking additional compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of income, because she was forced out of her job.

Source: 6 South Florida, “La Dorada restaurant owner accused of sexual assault in former hostess’ lawsuit,” Diana Gonzalez, Feb. 5, 2013

Florida restaurant workers sue employer for underpayment

A Florida-based restaurant company faces a federal lawsuit over claims that it routinely underpaid workers at its locations in Florida and across the United States. The employee rights claim accuses the company of implementing “a companywide pattern and practice of paying its employees below minimum wage and less than what the law requires” and seeks damages for back payment, legal fees and other forms of compensation, which could potentially amount to tens of millions of dollars.

Workers have filled similar claims in other states, but the Florida lawsuit marks the first hoping to represent all of the company’s workers. The lawsuit argues that workers were typically not paid until customers arrived at the restaurants, despite showing up for scheduled shifts that began earlier. It also claims that many employees were forced to work overtime, but were underpaid or were forced to work off the clock for no compensation whatsoever.

The company has denied the lawsuit’s allegations, with a spokesperson arguing that the claims “fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business.” He added that the company and all of its subsidiary brands follow all pursuant state and federal labor laws. The company, which does not franchise any of its locations, claims to employ 180,000 workers at over 1,000 restaurants. Another company represented said that the business was unaware of the allegations until receiving notification of the lawsuits, contending that the plaintiffs did not raise their concern using the company’s internal complaint system.

The company has faced similar accusations, being forced to pay over $24,000 in penalties and $27,000 in back wages over labor violations in 2011. The United States Department of Labor also ordered the company to pay $30,800 in fines and $25,000 in back wages for similar offenses during a separate incident in the same year.

Source: WRIC.com, “Olive Garden, LongHorn workers sue company,” Curt Anderson, Sep. 6, 2012

Class action suit filed against AT&T for restricted lunch breaks

According to the Fair Labor Standard Act, if an employee works more than 40 hours per week, he or she is entitled to overtime pay for those additional hours. This is universally understood and it is rare for an employer to overtly deny its employees this right. However, some companies may avoid an employee rights violation by working around this requirement. Instead of denying overtime, an employer might take measures to ensure that its employees stay within the regular 40 hours.

A class action lawsuit has recently been filed against AT&T for just such behavior. According to an attorney for the plaintiffs, the telecommunications company has been forcing its employees to work, without pay, during their lunch breaks. If the employees were compensated for their work, they would exceed 40 hours and AT&T would have to pay overtime.

The workers are not forced to work, per se, but they are subjected to heavy restrictions while on break. For example, they may be prohibited from going home, from leaving their vehicles, from traveling more than a half-mile for lunch, or from listening to music or reading the newspaper. According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, such a break is no break at all, and employees should be paid for their time.

There is no federal law that requires employers to give their employees lunch breaks. However, if breaks are to be provided, they should be largely unrestricted, the plaintiffs argue. California is the only state to legally mandate that employers provide at least a 30-minute break for any employee who works more than five hours at a time. Employers are not obligated to ensure that employees take their breaks, only that they are aware of them.

AT&T has responded to the lawsuit via a spokesperson statement. According to the spokesperson, the company is dedicated to complying with all laws and regulations regarding employee rights, including wage and hour laws.

Source: Huffington Post, “Indiana AT&T Technicians File Class Action Lawsuit Citing Grim Break Conditions,” Meredith Bennett-Smith, Aug. 16, 2012