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Lawsuit alleges Voltaggio restaurants deny cooks overtime pay

Two former cooks for Bryan Voltaggio's restaurants, including one from Family Meal in Baltimore, have sued the celebrity chef, his business partner and companies alleging violations of federal labor and wage laws.
Two former cooks for Bryan Voltaggio's restaurants, including one from Family Meal in Baltimore, have sued the celebrity chef, his business partner and companies alleging violations of federal labor and wage laws. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Two of chef Bryan Voltaggio's former employees are suing him and his restaurants, arguing they were denied overtime pay.

Sunday Alexander, a former line cook at Volt Family Meal in Baltimore, and Heather Hensley, a former line cook at Volt in Frederick, said they regularly came to work as much as three hours before the start of their shifts to prepare ingredients and perform other tasks. But they said they were instructed not to clock in until their shifts were actually scheduled to start.

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The class action lawsuit is seeking unpaid overtime and wages, arguing the working conditions violated the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The complaint, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, names Voltaggio, business partner Hilda Staples and companies Market Street Management LLC and Volt II LLC as defendants.

Staples said in an e-mail she and Voltaggio were not aware of the lawsuit and had not received any lawsuit paperwork.

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"In short, these people have never worked for the companies stated here," Staples wrote.

Voltaggio became known locally first for Volt, the downtown Frederick restaurant he opened in 2008, and then more widely when he and brother Michael Voltaggio were among the top competitors on the reality TV series "Top Chef" in 2009. His business has since expanded to include eight other restaurant locations, including Family Meal and Aggio in Baltimore.

In the lawsuit, Alexander and Hensley said they regularly performed work that was considered "off the clock," including preparations for regular work as well as work helping to complete a cookbook. They also accused Voltaggio of using cook auditions as a way to obtain free labor.

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