Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich are close to finalizing a settlement on yet another wage violation lawsuit. Batali, Bastianich, and Lidia Bastianich, along with five of their NYC restaurants, have agreed to pay out about $2.2 million after a former busser at Felidia filed a class action suit late last year, according to a public court documents.
About 1,300 front-of-house staffers at Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group restaurants Felidia, Esca, Becco, Del Posto, and Babbo are eligible to get paid from the $2,150,000 settlement, which has not yet received final approval from a judge.
Former busser Hector Jara filed the original suit in December 2017, accusing Felidia and its owners of not properly paying him while he worked at the restaurant from October 2015 to January 2017. He alleged that he often worked 55 hours a week but was only paid for up to 45; he also claimed that his work exceeded the legal limits of what tipped employees could do. Jara further accused a manager of disability discrimination, alleging that he was fired following a doctor recommendation to avoid lifting heavy items.
In court documents, the restaurants and owners denied the allegations. The Bastianichs and Batali did not admit fault as part of the settlement agreement, which was filed this week.
Though front-of-house staffers at Babbo will be able to be part of the class, the settlement explicitly mentions that former Babbo busser Octavio Quinones will not qualify for a payout. Back in November, Quinones and prolific restaurant world attorney Maimon Kirschenbaum separately sued Batali, Bastianich, and Babbo for wage violations, also in attempt to make it a class action.
That case is pending; Kirschenbaum tells Eater that they were originally slated to go into mediation with Batali attorneys next Monday. He plans to contest this settlement’s inclusion of Babbo, which was added onto the suit the same day that the settlement agreement was filed. “We believe this was behavior intended to shortchange the Babbo group, which they knew was represented by us,” Kirschenbaum says.
Carolyn Richmond, an attorney for B&B Hospitality Group and the other defendants, said in a statement that the companies “did nothing wrong and settled to avoid litigation costs”:
This settlement involves a deeply flawed statute that imposes $5,000-per-employee fines for paperwork violations that don’t actually harm any employee and are made by payroll companies. It’s become a plaintiff’s lawyer job creation act, with lawsuits flooding courts against 99% of NY restaurants. Mr. Kirschenbaum is in no position to object to a mediated and negotiated settlement when his client wasn’t involved in it or affected by it.
Eater has also reached out to Jara’s attorney, who did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
It’s not the first time Kirschenbaum has gone up against the Batali and Bastianich restaurants. In 2012, he negotiated a $5.25 million settlement with the crew, similarly following a wage violation lawsuit. The newer Babbo suit, which can be seen here, also accuses the group of shortchanging staff on pay.
Batali is named in the suit, but shortly after Jara and his attorney C.K. Lee filed the original complaint, the famous chef stepped away from management of his restaurants following sexual misconduct allegations. Joe Bastianich remains at the group, and Lidia Bastianich took on a bigger role. Batali is now in the process of divesting financially from the businesses.