Chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson is being sued for discriminating against black bartenders at his flagship Harlem restaurant Red Rooster. A former bartender claims that not only is there “a plain aversion to black bartenders” — based solely on the fact that there was a minority of black male bartenders — but that the restaurant also “routinely” stole employee tips, according to a suit filed on Friday.
Campus Johnson started as a porter at Red Rooster in 2014, working his way up to bartender by 2016, where he was the only male black bartender out of 10 most of the time, according to the complaint. The suit calls this “conspicuous” in light of the restaurant being in Harlem and Samuelsson’s “outspokenness” on the issue of supporting African Americans.
Johnson says he was fired on March 8, two days after requesting and being approved to take a two-month leave to care for his sick mother. The suit says that despite the restaurant telling him it was for failing to properly moderate his drink pouring, “it is clear that [Johnson] was terminated on the basis of race and his protected request to care for his sick mother.”
On the wage front, Johnson claims he not only was not paid out the correct amount, but also that the restaurant deducted 30 minutes each day his pay for a meal break, despite him often not being able to take a break — a common complaint in wage lawsuits. The full complaint is below.
Notorious restaurant industry attorney Maimon Kirschenbaum — he’s been the guy behind successful wage theft suits against Babbo and Babu Ji — is seeking class action status here. Samuelsson, one of NYC’s most prominent black chefs, has spoken over the years about the lack of other black chefs in the fine dining world, including in his memoir Yes, Chef.
Update, 4:12 p.m.: In a statement, Samuelsson’s lawyer calls the lawsuit “wholly without merit,” saying that Johnson was given several counselings and warnings before termination. “The claims of discrimination are baseless and quite frankly, ridiculous,” attorney Carolyn D. Richmond of Fox Rothschild LLP writes in an email. “Marcus Samuelsson Group is minority-owned and -operated, and the majority of staff is African American men and women.”
Note: Marcus Samuelsson is hosting a show created by Eater, and PBS. This does not impact coverage on Eater New York.