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Mario Batali Settles Tip Lawsuit For $5.25 Million

The Huffington Post    
First Posted: 03/ 7/2012 8:05 am Updated: 03/ 7/2012 2:22 pm

Mario Batali's long-running legal dispute with workers at his New York restaurants, over improperly withheld tips, is almost over. Law360 reported Tuesday, and publicly available court documents confirm, that Batali and his business partners will settle the class action suit, which began in July 2010, for $5.25 million.

The money represents compensation for what the plaintiffs have described as a pervasive, illegal pattern of tip skimming. They say that Batali's restaurants, among other misdeeds, took four to five percent of tips given to servers for alcohol and wine sales to pay sommeliers' salaries.

Settlements from the $5.25 million fund will be available to "all individuals who worked at the Restaurants as captains, servers, waiters, bussers, runners, back waiters, bartenders, and/or barbacks from July 22, 2004 to February 14, 2012, and who do not opt out of the settlement," according to supporting documentation for the settlement [pdf]. The exact amount due to each plaintiff is determined by the number of hours he or she has worked for the restaurants.

The 117 plaintiffs in the suit were led by Stephanie Capsolas and Hernan Ricardo Alvarado, a former waitress and kitchen runner, respectively, at Batali's West Village flagship Babbo. They are represented by New York law firms Outten & Golden LLP and Joseph, Herzfeld, Hester & Kirschenbaum LLP. Maimon Kirschenbaum, a partner at the latter firm, has been described as the "scourge of restaurateurs" because of his proclivity for legal action against high-profile restaurants.

Court documents filed Monday in New York's Southern District Court indicate that the parties agreed on the material terms of the settlement [pdf] on October 27, 2011. The schedule outlined in the documents suggests that the final settlement will take place by mid-June.

A representative for Mario Batali and his chief business partner, Joe Bastianich, refused comment when reached by HuffPost Food Tuesday night. The confidentiality clause of the settlement stipulates that neither the plaintiff nor the defendant in the case may not "communicate to any media or media representative, including but not limited to the electronic, print or digital media or social networking site, information regarding the Litigation."

Bastianich has not always been so taciturn when it comes to litigious employees. The New York Post, in a September 2011 profile of Kirschenbaum, quoted him saying:

“Money-hungry lawyers, through frivolous lawsuits, are shaking down the very foundation of Manhattan’s restaurant industry. [...] You’re forced to settle. Why go to trial and risk a $5 million settlement if you can settle for a million and a half?”

Given that the suit ended in an an out-of-court settlement for more than $5 million, Bastianich must be eating his words right now -- and hoping that others are eating Mario's pasta. You have to sell a lot of $14 plates of bavette cacio e pepe to make $5.25 million.

Read the full 43-page settlement here.

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