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Michael White’s Restaurant Group Accused of Unpaid Wages

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Five former staffers are in arbitration with the Italian restaurant powerhouse

Marea’s dining room has a white tablecloth and yellow chairs, set with plates and forks and knives.
The dining room at Marea
Photo by Daniel Krieger

Chef Michael White and Altamarea Group — a company with acclaimed Italian restaurants like Marea and Ai Fiori — has been accused of not fairly paying wages to staff, according to a lawsuit filed in December by former employees.

The suit has been dismissed after the former staff withdrew it, but the attorney representing them says they’re still pursuing the claims via arbitration, which will happen privately.

The complaint names White, his business partner Ahmass Fakahany, Altamarea Group, and restaurants Ristorante Morini, Vaucluse, and Marea, a two Michelin star restaurant.

Five staffers — including food runners, a busser, a barista, and a cook — allege that management didn’t properly pay full minimum wage and overtime, withheld tips, and improperly time shaved on hours worked over the last six years. All of them also allege that a half hour daily break was deducted from their paychecks even though they did not take breaks.

In one case, a cook who worked at Marea in 2015 claims that he was scheduled to work from 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. for six days a week — but a manager asked him to only clock in after 1 p.m., the suit alleges.

The suit also accuses the restaurants of using a tip pool that included people who shouldn’t be receiving tips, like managers, and forcing them to spend more than 20 percent of their time on work that wouldn’t lead to gratuity.

In a statement, Altamarea’s managing director of marketing Jonna Gerlich says, “We at Altamarea are aware of this matter involving a very small number of former employees. We believe that these claims have no merit and that we continue to operate all of our restaurants in full compliance with all wage and hour and other regulations.”

Wage lawsuits with such allegations are fairly common in the restaurant industry. Earlier this month, The Beatrice Inn was sued for similar reasons, and other high profile restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns have settled such cases, sometimes for millions of dollars.


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