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Batali Group Servers Win Initial Cert. In Tip Action

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A New York federal judge on Monday granted conditional certification to a class of waitstaff working at eight restaurants owned by Mario Batali in a suit accusing the celebrity chef of skimming a share of each night's wine sales from the tip pool.  U.S. District Judge Richard J. Holwell granted the conditional certification to plaintiffs covering all eight restaurants partially owned by Batali and his partner Joseph Bastianich, despite the defendants' bid to limit the class to tipped employees at the five restaurants at which the named plaintiffs worked.

Originally lodged in July, the suit accuses the restaurant group of pocketing about 4 percent of each night's wine sales from the tip pool before dividing it up among the servers and bartenders — allegedly to cover the restaurants' "wine program" — in violation of state and federal labor laws.  While the defendants — which, in addition to Batali and Bastianich, include the restaurants and the group's administration unit Pasta Resources Inc. — agreed not to fight certification for Babbo, Otto, Casa Mono, Bar Jamon, and Tarry Lodge, they argued that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the other three restaurants had similar tip deduction policies.  The judge rejected that logic, saying that regardless of the plaintiffs' ultimate chances of success in the case, it was "undisputed that five of the restaurants withheld roughly the same percentage (all but Babbo withheld 4 percent and Babbo withheld 4.5 percent) of exactly the same thing (wine sales)."

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