Trief & Olk, Higer Lichter and Givner files proposed class action against Darden Restaurants

By: Paul Brinkmann
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Miami-based law firm Higer Lichter & Givner is one of three firms that filed a proposed class action overtime lawsuit Wednesday against all restaurant chains owned by Darden Restaurants, including The Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

Darden is considered the world’s largest full-service restaurant group, with almost 170,000 employees.

The suit, on behalf of two plaintiffs, alleges servers were paid less than the minimum wage and were not compensated for time they were required to work off the clock.

The suit was filed in South Florida on behalf of Amanda Mathis, a Florida resident and former server at several Longhorn Steakhouse locations, and James Hamilton, a Virginia resident and former Olive Garden server in Georgia.

It alleges that Darden (NYSE: DRI) violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by paying many of its servers below the applicable minimum wage, which can be as low as $2.13 an hour for tipped work and $7.25 an hour for non-tipped work. It also alleges that servers were required to work off the clock at the beginning and end of their shifts.

Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said in an emailed statement that the company complies with labor laws and takes claims of impropriety seriously, but had never heard of the complaints from the plaintiffs specifically.

“We have a robust dispute resolution program designed to quickly and effectively address any employee concerns. We have no record of either of these two individuals utilizing that process,” Jeffers said. “As for the allegations contained in the complaint, we believe they are baseless and fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business.”

Attorney David Lichter said he believes the suit is the first to name all Darden’s restaurants.

The proposed class would be current or former servers employed at any time from August 2009 to the present.

The other plaintiff firms are New York-based Trief & Olk and New Jersey-based Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf.