February 29, 2012: Laine Doss
Yesterday evening, over 60 restaurant workers and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United supporters from several union and labor groups walked into the Capital Grille in Miami during the restaurant’s dinner service, interrupting the bankers and power brokers who dine there to read a letter to management, citing allegations of discrimination and wage theft by the restaurant.
Miami is the fifth city where Capital Grille workers have added their names to a class action lawsuit. The original suit was filed last month. Today, February 29, an amendment was filed, adding several Miami Capital Grille employees as additional plaintiffs.
The 86-page lawsuit, filed in an Illinois District Court, claims that the Capital Grille failed to pay employees overtime, didn’t provide employees with an accurate accounting of time worked, and failed to pay all wages earned by employees. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that a number of African-American employees were denied advancement opportunities in the company or were dismissed without cause.
Claims specific to Miami include workers being asked to punch out early and not being provided proper breaks. Most of the Miami restaurant workers involved in the lawsuit are Haitian back-of-house staff, who say they are “pressured to come in to work sick and have their hours reduced without explanation,” according to Maurose Frantz, a current dishwasher at the Brickell steak house.
ROC United spokesperson Meghanna Reddy said that her organization was targeting the Capital Grille because several of the restaurant chain’s employees came forward complaining of wage theft and discrimination, first in Washington D.C., then New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami.
New Times called the Capital Grille. We were referred to parent company, Lakeland-based Darden. We spoke with spokesperson Rich Jeffers, who believes ROC is conducting a campaign against his company. “This is the same method that ROC has used to deliver three previous letters to our company. Jeffers said that each time, the letter states a “laundry list” of grievances against the Capital Grill, but no specifics. When Darden tries to contact ROC United, they “receive no response. Just a lawsuit.”
Jeffers went on to say that Darden and it’s restaurants maintain a zero tolerance policy for acts of discrimination and that he believes the claims are baseless.
Darden, which owns the Capital Grille, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Eddie V’s. Darden is the world’s largest full-service restaurant company, employing 180,000 people, according to their website.
ROC United is a national restaurant workers organization with more than 9,000 members in nine states and has won agreements totaling $5 million for restaurant workers who face illegal treatment by employers.