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Overtime Pay Laws: Workers Take on Large Restaurant Chain

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Sacramento, CARegardless of the type of work involved, overtime pay laws exist to protect the employee from being 'owned' by the employer, as it were. Various employees who work, or have worked for California Capital Grille restaurants have filed a complaint aligned with a larger action rolling out in five states, asserting they were deprived of wages and rest breaks.

As summarized in Hispanically Speaking News (7/16/12), a lawsuit originally filed at Federal District Court in Chicago has gathered steam and has now landed in Los Angeles. Earlier this month, on July 16th, the Mexican-American Legal and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed an action against Darden Restaurants. The latter is described as the world's largest full service restaurant group. In California, Darden owns and controls Capital Grille, Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

Various allegations have been made against Darden, including wage and hour violations of overtime laws, together with alleged abuses such as having to work while sick, and simply being overworked.

California overtime law reflects clear guidelines for the payment of overtime once an employee has reached a certain threshold of hours worked within a week—usually 40—with the latter assuming proper meal breaks and rest periods are observed. The denial of proper meal breaks and rest periods is not only a violation unto itself, such absences of rest and meal periods effectively adds to the actual number of hours worked.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is leading a national campaign to establish 'Dignity at Darden.' A spokesperson for MALDEF noted in the report the Capital Grille, specifically, "cannot force their workers to work off the clock or keep their workers from taking legally mandated breaks," the statement read. "We applaud the workers bravery by coming forward and seeking to end these illegal conditions for themselves and others."

The organization, with the help of some 70 workers who have joined the effort nation-wide, hopes to recover unpaid minimum wages and unpaid overtime according to California overtime law.

The original claim, filed in Chicago, was accompanied by state class claims for New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Maryland together with workers from Chicago. However, due to size and growing complexity of the various state claims, the lawsuit has since been severed into five separate jurisdictions. At present, the unpaid overtime et al lawsuit will be litigated in regional US District Courts in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, with Miami and Maryland pending.

Employers will often exploit vulnerable workers and deny them overtime pay, meal breaks and rest periods in an effort to reduce costs under threat of firings or—in the case of illegal immigrants—reportage to the authorities and deportation. Workers compensation settlements have also been an issue. Various advocacy groups are undertaking actions to reverse what appears to be a growing trend of unfairness and exploitation, in the name of increasing profits. An overtime pay lawsuit is often the only recourse such exploited workers have at their disposal.


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