By Tom Brown
MIAMI, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Darden Restaurants Inc, best known
for its Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, was hit with a
lawsuit in federal court in Miami on Thursday accusing one of
the largest U.S. restaurant operators of violating federal labor
laws by underpaying workers at its popular eateries across the
The lawsuit accuses the Orlando, Florida-based company of
failing to pay federally mandated minimum wages and forcing its
waiters and waitresses to work "off-the-clock" before or after
Filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, it also claims
many Darden employees have failed to receive appropriate
overtime wages for work in excess of 40 hours per week.
Only two plaintiffs are named in the 19-page complaint filed
on Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of
But the suit seeks to collectively represent what it
describes as "at least thousands of individuals" who are current
or former employees of Darden, from 2009 to the present.
"We think it's the first lawsuit in the country that seeks a
nationwide collective action involving all four of Darden's
flagship restaurants, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn
Steakhouse and Capital Grille," said David Lichter of Higer
Lichter & Givner, one of the lead attorneys who filed the
"Since the lawsuit has been filed this morning we've been
contacted by servers around the country who have expressed
interest in the action," Lichter said.
Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the company takes "any
claims of impropriety seriously." But he said Darden had no
record of the plaintiffs in Thursday's complaint attempting to
resolve their alleged pay complaints through an internal
"dispute resolution" process.
"We believe they are baseless and fly in the face of our
values and how we operate our business," Jeffers said.
Lichter said it was not immediately clear how much money he
and other lawyers would potentially demand that Darden pay out
due to the lawsuit, in the form of back pay and other
But he said the complaint was aimed at putting the entire
restaurant and hospitality industry on notice that abuses
targeting poorly paid "tipped employees" would no longer be
"In these times, people are struggling to get by. They're
entitled to earn at least the minimum wage," Lichter told
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