Celebrity Chef-Owned Harlem Restaurant Faces Class Action for Overtime Violations, Wrongful Termination Based on Race

A Harlem-based restaurant owned by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, Red Rooster Harlem, faces a class action lawsuit for overtime and notice violations as well as a claim of wrongful termination because of race.

Campus Johnson was hired as a a barback in August 2015, receiving $5.15 per hour, according to the complaint. Johnson claims, at the time of his hiring, he was “not given a notice spelling out his correct hourly pay and/or that he would be paid pursuant to a tip credit against the minimum wage.”

When his pay was increased to $9.00 an hour, Johnson claims he, again, was not provided with a notice that he was being paid pursuant to a tip credit against the minimum wage. He argues that, since no such notice was given, the restaurant was not entitled to pay him, or others, according to tip credit rules.

Johnson claims that he occasionally worked more than forty hours per week, but was only paid overtime for some, but not all of those weeks.

He also claims that, up until early 2017, the restaurant routinely deducted a half hour’s worth of pay for every shift, ostensibly for a meal break, but Johnson was rarely allowed to take a meal break during his workday. Thus, he “worked for an unpaid half an hour each workday.”

Johnson seeks class action status to include all other tipped service employees of the restaurant for the three years before the filing of his complaint.

Johnson further claims that for most of his employment as a bartender, he was the only African-American male bartender at the restaurant. He claims that it was notable, as customers mentioned it to him several times.

On March 6, 2016 Johnson requested a two-month Family Medical Leave Act leave of absence for two months so that he could take care of his mother who was suffering from leukemia, according to the complaint. He claims the request was approved.

Two days later Johnson says he was terminated, ostensibly for not using a jigger to moderate his drink pouring. Johnson claims this was “blatently false and pretextural,” because the restaurant did not have a stated policy regarding jiggers and other bartenders and managers routinely poured drinks without using jiggers and were not disciplined.

“Given the timing of [Johnson’s] termination, his status as the only male black bartender, and the patent absurdity of the stated reason for his termination, it is clear that [he] was terminated on the basis of his race and his protected request to care for his sick mother.”

Johnson is represented by Maimon Kirschenbaum of New York city who filed the action in the Southern District of New York.