Wall Street Journal: Paid Leave at Batali Eatery

Sumathi Reddy, Sept 24th, 2012

Celebrity chef Mario Batali has agreed to settle another lawsuit brought by workers at his acclaimed restaurant, Del Posto, paying $1.15 million and granting employees a scarce commodity in the dining industry: paid vacation and sick leave at minimum wage.

The settlement approved in federal court on Monday marks the second large payout agreed to by Mr. Batali and his partner, Joe Bastianich. Their company, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, agreed to a $5.25 million settlement of a separate lawsuit in March affecting employees at Del Posto and several of their other restaurants.

Monday’s agreement settles the claims of 31 current and former Del Posto workers and gives them more than money, allowing nonmanagement employees five paid vacation days and three paid sick days at minimum wage. It also institutes a promotions policy and cultural sensitivity training for management.

Both suits involved claims that tips were being misappropriated from employees and given to sommeliers and that front-of-the-house staff were being deprived of owed wages, including overtime. Del Posto and its principals denied the allegations and didn’t admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

The Del Posto workers are members of the New York chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center, an advocacy group that has waged a campaign against the restaurant that has included multiple Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints and protests outside the fine-dining, Italian restaurant on the edge of Chelsea.

Del Posto has agreed to work with the restaurant group to become one of its “High Road Employers,” a designation that the advocacy group said means the restaurant is an ethical employer.

Mr. Batali said in an email that his company came to “an amicable resolution” with the Restaurant Opportunities Center and would “continue to foster and improve a mutually beneficial relationship with our team.”

Daisy Chung, executive director of the restaurant workers group, said the settlement is significant because it will show that “you can be profitable and still implement policies that are beneficial for your work force.”

Jonathan Bernstein, co-counsel to the plaintiffs, said the settlement also resolves discrimination and retaliation claims from some employees, who brought national-origin discrimination claims. He said employees will now be offered specialty training to increase their knowledge of the service and food at Del Posto.

“We hope that it sets a new standard for the restaurant industry,” he said. “There’s this emerging recognition that sustainable food practices include not only well sourced ingredients and the way the food was raised but also labor practices.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444358804578016834258551610.html

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