Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Texas de Brazil Lawsuit; The Beef Starts Here!

The Law Firm of Lowell J. Kuvin, Miami, and Morgan & Morgan, Orlando have filed a lawsuit against Texas de Brazil, a national restaurant chain with seven locations in Florida. The lawsuit was certified as a “collective action” by the federal court in February and includes six of the seven locations.

The lawsuit alleges Texas de Brazil did not pay servers and bartenders the correct minimum wage because the employees were required to pay for their uniforms, contrary to established federal laws (Department of Labor & Fair Labor Standards Act). Also alleged in the complaint is that Texas de Brazil did not properly pay service staff for all of their overtime hours and that the tip pool scheme was contrary to federal laws. Plaintiffs are seeking damages which include but are not limited to a refund of the entire tip credit of $3.02 for every hour they worked as well as tips illegally paid into the pool.

“Now is the time to join the lawsuit” said attorney Lowell J. Kuvin who represents the Plaintiffs along with Carlos Leach of Morgan & Morgan in Orlando. Mr. Kuvin worked in the hospitality service industry for more than 25 years before he decided to go to law school. “In my opinion, restaurants such as Texas de Brazil try to pass on the daily expenses of uniforms to service staff in order to pad the bottom line of profits” said Mr. Kuvin. “I understand why they do so because the restaurant business is very competitive and really is a game of pennies. However, when restaurants are paying their service staff the bare minimum allowed under Florida law, they need to follow the entire law and that means they need to absorb the cost of uniforms and other tools of trade servers are required to purchase.”

Another lawsuit/class action was filed recently by Mr. Leach and Mr. Kuvin. The second lawsuit alleges the tip pool was violated because servers were forced to share their tips with Carvers and the Carver Leader. "The motion to certify the class has been filed," said Mr. Kuvin, and will be set for a hearing as soon as is possible. "After speaking with our clients from the first lawsuit, we feel the class has a very good chance of getting certified in the state of Florida. If we discover the class extends to other restaurants outside of the state, we will initiate other class action lawsuits in those states as well."

For more information about the lawsuits you can visit or call Mr. Kuvin at 305.358.6800 during normal working hours (10 am to 8 pm) weekdays. You can reach Carlos Leech at his office at 407.420.1414.

For more information on restaurant laws in Florida you can visit or call the Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin, LLC at 305.358.6800 – – emails are also welcome.

Saigon Grill in New York City Closes for Good

Workers Picket Saigon Grill

For years, Saigon Grill on Amsterdam Avenue at 90th Street was an Upper West Side fixture. Its spring rolls and Vietnamese soups were staples of quick dinners, celebratory lunches and takeout meals. Its deliveries were prompt, its waiters happy to take care of small children.

Yet there, on Friday, were some of the restaurant’s former regulars and a dozen of the workers who used to serve them, throwing a sort of grand-closing party outside Saigon Grill in the snow.

Balloons festooned a loudspeaker and a sidewalk pay phone.

“When sweatshops close, workers win!” pickets chanted, claiming victory for the pro-labor forces of the famously liberal Upper West Side.

“Celebrate!” read a neon sign hanging from a former deliveryman’s neck. “Sweatshop closed.”

It was a milestone in the history of the pan-Asian restaurant, where workers began picketing in the spring of 2007, saying, among other complaints, that the original owners, Simon and Michelle Nget, paid them less than the minimum wage — under $2 an hour in some cases.

The next year, a federal judge awarded 36 workers $4.6 million in back pay and damages, and the Ngets were charged with over 400 counts of violating labor laws. A settlement reduced the award to $3 million, of which the Ngets paid $1.5 million, according to the office of Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat of the Upper West Side.

New owners, Bei Lin and Ling Qiao, took over the restaurant in 2010, promising to do better and pay the remaining $1.5 million.

But picketing was renewed, prompted by accusations that the owners intimidated, harassed and discriminated against workers. And of the promised $1.5 million, only $500,000 has been paid, according to Ms. Rosenthal’s office.

The restaurant had been shut more than once in recent months for health violations, including having mice, cockroaches and flies on the premises.

But it appears to have been closed for good since Feb. 26, a few weeks after a judge ordered the owners to pay $1 million still owed the workers.

“Restaurant official closed,” a note on the door read on Friday. “We’re sorry for inconvenience with you.”

It was unclear why the restaurant had been shuttered. A voice mail message left with the restaurant was not returned.

“Good riddance,” said Ms. Rosenthal, who has worked with a group representing the workers, the Justice Will Be Served campaign.

“It also sends a message to other restaurants that you can’t mistreat your workers. It just won’t fly on the Upper West Side.”

Organizers say the years of picketing outside Saigon Grill have inspired delivery people and other workers at other Asian restaurants, nail salons and pizza parlors around the city to fight unfair labor practices.

Like other local residents in attendance on Friday, Ms. Rosenthal said she ate at Saigon Grill often in the years before the Ngets’ violations came to light. She said that after the news spread, she did not know anyone who patronized the restaurant.
Saigon Grill’s labor battles became notorious enough that several passers-by said they had eventually given up their favorite spring rolls and noodles to support the workers.

“It turned me off,” Lori Countey, who lives six blocks away, said. “I felt wrong about going in there.”

Still, the restaurant remained busy on many nights. And there were signs that all the commotion, instead of winning the hearts and minds of progressive neighbors, had frayed some local nerves.

The rally on Friday was twice interrupted by angry residents.

“I’m a liberal, but I found this offensive,” said Judy Bardack, 70, who had watched the pickets come and go for years, though she had never eaten at the restaurant.

“This was not the worst abuse in the world, and they managed to hound them out of business. I mean, the balloons!”

Shakir Farsakh, 50, another neighbor, said he had decided not to eat at Saigon Grill after hearing about the protests, but broke his self-imposed rule a few times.
“We went once in a while after that, feeling a little guilty,” he said. After all, the restaurant was convenient and its food was good. “But,” he said, “we still weren’t happy about it.”