Talula’s Garden, the Washington Square restaurant owned by Stephen Starr and Aimee Olexy, has agreed to pay out almost $400,000 to workers for “alleged federal wage violations,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department’s local Wage and Hour Division started looking into claims last year that employees were working unpaid hours before they were allowed to clock in — which is a fairly common, albeit illegal, practice. The upshot is Talula’s Garden will likely pay 63 workers $197,917 in back wages and an equal amount in damages, totaling $395,834, pending approval by a federal judge.
The investigation concluded that Talula’s Garden did not adhere to the overtime, minimum wage, and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Specifically, line cooks did prep work before they were allowed to clock in and servers and bartenders also worked before the start of their shifts to prep food and set up the restaurant. Another problem: The restaurant wasn’t keeping accurate records of work hours.
“The workers at Talula’s Garden did not receive the required minimum wage and overtime pay,” James Cain, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in Philadelphia, said in a press release. “Our agency is committed to ensuring that workers not only receive the wages they have rightfully earned, but that employers are provided all the tools they need to understand and comply with the law.”
Updated: Washington Square Restaurant Partners LP, which is Talula’s Garden, denies the allegations, sending Eater this statement:
Talula’s has a very clear policy that NO EMPLOYEE may work without being clocked in. This policy has been reiterated among employees in trainings over and over again. The Department of Labor’s press release fails to note the substantial cooperation the restaurant provided during their year-long investigation process, the exemplary policies the restaurant has had in place to prevent such alleged violations and the fact that this was the first complaint of its kind the restaurant ever received. It also fails to note that within days of receiving a complaint from a disgruntled ex-employee, and prior to getting notice from the DOL, the restaurant put into place mechanisms making all restaurant workers clock in immediately upon entry to the building, even prior to performing work, so no employee could ever allege to be working off the clock.
We deny any of the allegations and we are settling only to avoid a protracted litigation. There is no admission of liability. We are happy to put this unpleasant experience behind us and will actively work with our employees, management and our elected representatives to try and work towards a more fair and reasonable process in the future.