MINEOLA, NY (Feb. 16, 2012) - Former servers, busboys and maí®tre d's filed a class-action lawsuit today against Long Island caterer Scott Morrell and his company, Morrell Caterers, alleging they may have unlawfully withheld as much as $10 million in tips from as many as 500 employees over the past six years.
The suit filed in Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola alleged that Morrell Caterers, which has catered Long Island weddings and other events since 1962, withheld tips and gratuities that were lawfully required to be given to waiters, bussers, bartenders and other service employees at the caterers' three primary locations - Woodbury Jewish Center, Temple Beth Torah of Melville, and Temple Israel of Lawrence
"Customers thought they were tipping these workers when they paid the service charge or gratuity in the contract. Only that wasn't the case," said Jeffrey K. Brown, partner at Leeds, Morelli & Brown, P.C., the Carle Place firm that brought the suit. "For too long caterers have taken advantage of the powerless - those working the hardest to put on parties, weddings and birthdays."
Morrell recently was accused of violating kosher laws at its catering establishments.
The latest suit (Index No. 12/001994) was filed by former maí®tre d' William Cataldo, of Ulster County, former waiter and captain Dharmapal "Paul" Vishnudat, of Queens, and former bartender, captain and maí®tre d' Roman Khaimov of Queens, on behalf of as many as 500 servers, busboys, bartenders, maí®tre d's, captains and other service employees who worked for the caterer since 2006.
The suit alleges that Morrell led patrons to believe that a "service charge" listed in catering contracts was going to the wait and service staff - in lieu of cash tips that would be distributed during or after the catered affair. Those tips were never distributed and instead were kept by management in violation of New York labor law, according to the complaint.
The caterer's policy required all envelopes containing cash tips from the parties' hosts to be delivered to management, including Scott Morrell, who then failed to distribute that to the wait staff, captains, maí®tre d's and other service employees, according to sworn testimony from sales managers contained in documents filed in another lawsuit.
Morrell Caterers operates primarily out of the Woodbury Jewish Center, Temple Beth Torah of Melville, and Temple Israel of Lawrence, while also providing off-site catering at nearly 16 locations including the Angel Oranzanz Center, Chelsea Piers and others - according to their website.
"New York labor law and recent court rulings make it clear that if a reasonable patron thinks the money is going to the wait staff, then the tips and gratuities should go to the wait staff. Recent court decisions in state and federal courts, plus the recently enacted NY Wage Theft Prevention Act, have created a higher burden for employers to overcome," said Brown.
"It's an industry-wide practice," said Lenard Leeds, managing partner at Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C., whose firm along with New York City-based Virginia & Ambinder, have sued some of the most egregious alleged violators of the state's labor law, including the area's largest caterers: Scotto Brothers, Jericho Terrace, Crest Hollow Country Club, Singh Hospitality and Fresh Meadows Country Club.
"There is no doubt in my mind that catering halls, restaurants, caterers and country clubs have taken advantage of the workers for too long," Leeds said. "The owners deceive the customers into paying thousands of dollars for gratuities, and then keep the money, effectively stealing the tips out of the pockets of their employees. Our firm has developed a reputation for finding and bringing these types of wage and hour cases, especially the tip and gratuity violations that occur almost everywhere."
The suit seeks to recover the unpaid wages owed to the employees, damages and attorney fees.
About Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C.
Based in Carle Place, NY, Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C. is a New York City area law firm dedicated to providing the highest quality guidance and representation to clients with concerns involving a broad range of legal practice areas. Over the last two decades, the firm's attorneys have become widely known and respected -- in New York and across the U.S. -- for their ability to litigate complex legal issues effectively, and for the outstanding results the firm has achieved, particularly in the areas of employment law, civil rights, discrimination and sexual harassment. For more information call 1-800-585 4658 or visit www.lmblaw.com.
About Virginia & Ambinder, LLP
Attorneys at the New York City law firm of Virginia & Ambinder, LLP have made it their mission to assist underpaid and mistreated employees in New York, New Jersey, and throughout the United States. With over 20 years of experience in the field, the firm has consistently provided focused, dedicated representation to thousands of workers in hundreds of wage and hour class action cases---holding employers accountable for unlawful wage and hour abuses, including overtime and prevailing wage violations. For more information, call (212) 943-9080 or visit www.vandallp.com.