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* Lawsuit claims company underpays restaurant workers
* Darden is among the largest U.S. restaurant operators
* Company has called the lawsuit “baseless”
MIAMI, Nov 16 (Reuters) – A lawsuit alleging Darden Restaurants, Inc violated U.S. labor laws by underpaying servers at its Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains and other eateries has been expanded to include dozens of new plaintiffs, a lawyer said on Friday.
The suit, filed in September in federal court in Miami, accuses one of the largest restaurant operators of failing to pay federally mandated minimum wages and forcing its waiters and waitresses to work “off-the-clock” before or after their shifts.
The original lawsuit named two plaintiffs, but now includes more than 50, said David Lichter of Higer Lichter & Givner, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs.
“Since we filed the lawsuit, we’ve had a tidal wave of inquiries from across the country,” he said.
Filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the lawsuit also claims many employees at Darden’s restaurants failed to receive appropriate overtime wages for work in excess of 40 hours per week.
A Darden spokesman declined to comment on Friday. In September, a company official called the accusations “baseless” and said they “fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business.”
The lawsuit seeks to collectively represent thousands of current or former employees dating back to August 2009 at Darden’s restaurants that include: Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Bahamas Breeze and Seasons 52.
According to its company website, Darden owns and operates more than 2,000 restaurants and employs 185,000 people.
The case is Mathis et al vs. Darden Restaurants, Inc. et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 12-61742-RSR.