D.C. Chef Must Fork Over|$527K in Unpaid Wages

     (CN) – A Washington, D.C., restaurateur must pay a dozen former employees nearly $527,000 in unpaid wages and overtime, a federal judge ruled.

     The ex-employees sued Roberto Donna and two of his shuttered restaurants, SER d/b/a Galileo Restaurant and RD Trattoria d/b/a/ Bebo Trattoria Restaurant, over labor violations committed between 1992 and 2008.
     Galileo shuttered in 2006, and Bebo closed in August 2009. Donna’s latest venture, Galileo III, just opened in downtown D.C. this October.
     Last week’s ruling from Chief Judge Royce Lamberth caps off more than a year of legal troubles for the James Beard Award-winning chef. Donna was ordered to pay more than $375,000 after pleading guilty in November to felony embezzlement, and nearly $158,000 in June for the same charge, according to media reports. A Virginia federal judge also ordered Donna in 2009 to pay five ex-Bebo workers $25,000 plus attorneys’ fees for labor violations.
     “Defendants consistently failed to abide by their duties under federal and District of Columbia wage and hour laws,” Lamberth wrote. “They rarely paid their employees on time and engaged in a persistent and widespread practice of issuing checks without signatures, issuing post-dated checks, and issuing checks despite insufficient funds in defendants’ account.”
     Donna also cheated employees out of the full tips when diners paid with credit cards, and few patrons paid with cash, according to the ruling.
     “When confronted by their employees about their failure to pay wages, including tips, defendants said that they needed to withhold payment to cover the restaurant’s operating expenses,” the ruling states. “Defendants have not demonstrated that these operating expenses were caused by or related to the collection of credit card tips. Because defendants did not properly allow their tipped employees to retain their tips, they were not entitled to claim a tip credit against plaintiffs’ wages.”
     Employees were also paid unequally, and the restaurants did not maintain proper payroll records, Lamberth wrote.
     The judge doubled the subtotal that the restaurants owed each employee for unpaid wages, overtime and tips. Attorneys for the workers will also take home nearly $133,000.

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