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Workers sue Lebanese Taverna for keeping wages and tips

December 20, 2013: It didn’t add up. Their paychecks didn’t match the number of hours they’d worked. What had happened to those extra hours, and more importantly, to their wages? And why were they being required to give up so much of their tips?
When Paul Kinzie and his co-workers at Lebanese Taverna started asking questions, what they found led them to sue the Baltimore restaurant in December. Represented by the Public Justice Center and the Law Offices of Gary M. Gilbert & Associates, the workers allege that Lebanese Taverna systematically removed hours from employee time sheets, depriving them of the minimum wage due to them. They assert that they were illegally forced to share tips with employees who legally can’t participate in a tip pool, like administrative and management personnel. They also allege that the restaurant violated both federal and state law when it failed to inform them that they would only be earning the “tipped minimum wage” of $3.63 per hour instead of full minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
When Mr. Kinzie went to management with his concerns, he got nowhere. Instead he saw his shifts slowly whittled away, scheduled less and less frequently. He felt intimidated and feared retaliation. It’s difficult to speak up if you’re afraid it could put your income at risk.
But the stakes were high enough for employees at Lebanese Taverna to file suit anyway. Those lost wages and tips can be crucial for making ends meet, says Mr. Kinzie. Not everyone who works in a restaurant is a young person hoping to earn some spending money. Many are older, with families, who have made a career of working in restaurants. When you’re not receiving all of the wages and tips you’ve earned, it’s that much harder to support your children and pay the bills. And years down the road, those reduced wages will lead to lower Social Security benefits. 
Since wage theft can have such a significant impact on workers and their families, the Public Justice Center hopes that this case will put restaurant employers on notice that they cannot keep their employees’ wages and tips without consequence. “Almost anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that the work is hard, the tipped minimum wage is far too low, and that many restaurant employers often violate the few rights restaurant workers do have,” said Alexandra Rosenblatt, an attorney at the PJC. “Our hope is that collective action lawsuits like this one can help change the restaurant industry by empowering workers and holding employers accountable.” 

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