MIAMI — Darden Restaurants violated federal labor laws by underpaying thousands of servers across the country at Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster and other eateries, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the workers.
The lawsuit filed in Miami federal court seeks to collectively represent current and past employees who worked for Darden from August 2009 to the present. It seeks potentially tens of millions of dollars in back pay and other compensation, plus interest and attorney fees, said lead lawyer David Lichter.
“Darden has a companywide pattern and practice of paying its employees below minimum wage and less than what the law requires,” Lichter said. “We’re seeking not only to correct the wrongs that have occurred at Darden, but hopefully this will stimulate change across the country.”
Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the allegations in the lawsuit “fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business.”
“Each of our brands complies with all federal and state labor and employment laws, and we’re proud of our standing as an employer of choice,” he said.
The Orlando-based company’s website said it has more than 2,000 restaurants in North America that employ about 180,000 people. Darden does not franchise its restaurants. There are similar lawsuits pending in Illinois and New York, but the one filed in Florida is the first seeking to represent all Darden workers at its four major brands: Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille. The lawsuit’s claims against Darden include:
• Servers showed up for shifts as scheduled but were not allowed to clock in until customers began arriving. Some were also forced to clock out and continue working without pay.
• Employees who worked beyond 40 hours a week were not paid 1.5 times their regular pay as required.