MANHATTAN (CN) – A former sous chef at Superiority Burger hauled the acclaimed vegetarian restaurant to court on Friday, saying celebrity chef Brooks Headley forced her to write his upcoming cookbook then refused to pay her.
Represented by attorney Kevin O’Donoghue, sous chef Julia Goldberg brought the 19-page complaint in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Goldberg says she was hired at the Tompkins Square restaurant in June 2015, around the time that Headley signed a contract with W.W. Norton & Co. to publish what Goldberg describes as a Superiority Burger cookbook.
There was one problem.
Headley “did not know many of the dishes and would not be able to” write the recipes, Goldberg says.
Superiority Burger has not returned an email on the allegations. A representative for Norton, which is not a party to the complaint, has not returned a voicemail seeking comment.
Goldberg says Headley directed her to write the recipes for the book, while he would write the introductions and other narratives.
“Headley offered to split the advance with plaintiff and to ensure she had equal credit on the book for working with him to complete the manuscript,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff agreed and began working on the book before and after her shifts at the restaurant, and also on her days off.”
Though they never formalized the deal in writing, Goldberg says Headley assured her for nearly a year “that she would be well compensated for her long hours on the project.”
As an employee of Superiority Burger, Goldberg says she drafted about 80 percent of the cookbook manuscript.
“She provided Headley with regular updates on the progress as it was made,” the complaint states. “Headley would then make tweaks and suggestions for certain recipes and those pages were finalized.”
Goldberg estimates that her work on the book ate up about 10 to 16 hours a week, on top of the 60-plus hours a week she worked at the restaurant.
“When plaintiff asked Headley about payment for the hours, or when he would receive an advance so she would get her half of it, he dismissed her requests and refused to pay her any money, telling her to wait for the advance or the publication,” the complaint states. “Ms. Goldberg feared loss of her job and that her professional reputation would be tarnished by Headley, so she kept working and trusted Headley would pay her as promised.”
Goldberg says family, friends in the business and legal experts encouraged her in September 2016 to request payment again, as well as a contract with Norton, “so she would know how much to expect to be paid and so that Norton would know she was to be credited on the book cover and title.”
“Headley indicated he was not sure how much they would pay him, and that the book might never be published, but that he would make sure she was paid for her work as he promised,” the complaint states.
“When plaintiff objected to working without pay or overtime for this, Headley continued to intimidate her, threatening her position and otherwise.”
Claiming that she can document these threats from email communication, Goldberg says her employment at Superiority Burger came to a tearful end in October 2016.
Hauled into a meeting with Headley’s partner in the restaurant, nonparty Gabe Rosner, Goldberg says she was given a one-paragraph contract, which she signed under duress.
“After signing,” the complaint states, “she was brought to a computer and told to log into her Google account while they watched her. She was shaking and crying and told to ‘hurry up and share’ the manuscript documents. She did and left. She did not return to work despite the threats and insults from Headley.”
Goldberg says the contract indicated that she “would be paid ‘no less than $5,000,’ dependent on the amount of the advance actually paid, and it was understood (but not written) that she would receive half of the advance payment made by Norton once the advance was paid, less any payments that Headley had to make for the book’s design, photographs, agent fees, etc.” (Parentheses in original.)
“The contract also promised ‘shared credit’ to plaintiff and Headley, which as a plain meaning was to be a byline of ‘Brooks Headley and Julia Goldberg’ or ‘by Brooks Headley with Julia Goldberg’ as many cookbooks are styled,” the complaint continues.
Goldberg says she never received any of the promised payments but that Headley continued to send her threatening emails and text messages, demanding that she finish the book.
The complaint contrasts Headley’s alleged claims about never receiving the advance from his publishers with an article the chef wrote for the May 2017 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.
With nary a mention of Goldberg, according to the complaint, Headley told readers that he was six months behind on his manuscript despite a $50,000 advance.
“But plaintiff believes the advance was actually $100,000, and she actually did most of the design and took many of the photographs, and therefore believes she is ultimately due far more than the minimum payment,” the complaint states.
Goldberg says Norton announced this past October that it would publish the book, without her name, in early 2018.
The sous chef then reached out to Norton, according to the complaint, only to find that it had no idea of her involvement in the book.
Norton allegedly referred Goldberg to Headley. She says the chef then had “a writer and publisher with considerable power in the food world contact plaintiff to make overtures to her about accepting less money and less credit.”
The bullying continued, according to the complaint, when Goldberg sought legal representation. She says counsel for Headley offered to pay only what the contract laid out and “some sort of credit on the title page.”
In addition to denying “shared credit” or paying more, “counsel further represented that the intellectual property of the manuscript was not independent work, and it was produced while plaintiff was an employee,” the complaint states.
If that is so, though, Goldberg says she is also due damages for minimum-wage and overtime violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act and New York labor laws.
“Defendants’ counsel also made a bad faith and meritless threat that any action that caused Norton to not publish the manuscript would be ‘tortious interference,’ which it clearly is not, in an attempt to bully the Plaintiff into not asserting her rights to work she produced,” the complaint states.