A lawsuit against the corporate owner of the Greene Turtle sports bar restaurants, alleging the Edgewater-based chain failed to pay overtime and minimum wages, is moving forward as a class action that could include hundreds of current and former employees.
The lawsuit, filed by two former servers at the chain's location at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, seeks unpaid wages and overtime for as many as 1,000 current and former employees in the past three years, according to Howard B. Hoffman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Hoffman estimated that an employee who worked 40 hours a week for six months would be owed about $7,500, including higher damages that courts can award for federal labor law violations.
Judge Catherine C. Blake of U.S. District Court in Baltimore granted a conditional class action certification this month and ordered that notice be sent to employees who worked at Greene Turtle restaurants in Maryland, Delaware and Washington that are either wholly owned subsidiaries of the franchising corporation or related corporations.
Greene Turtle has 25 locations, but some are run separately by franchisees.
Michael Sanford, the company's president and chief executive, could not be reached for comment. In court documents, the Greene Turtle Franchising Corp. and Sanford deny violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and contend they don't owe plaintiffs "anything."
"Assuming the FLSA applies, the plaintiffs were paid everything they were entitled to during the course of their employment," the defendants said in a court filing.
The lawsuit alleges that The Greene Turtle Franchising Corp. and its payroll arm, TGT Consulting LLC, paid employees who received tips less than minimum wage by subtracting a "tip credit" from the minimum wage. While that practice is allowed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Greene Turtle violated the law by failing to inform employees it was doing so, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also accuses the restaurant chain owner of improperly calculating the overtime rate for servers and bartenders, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime.
"Employees at all the corporate owned Greene Turtles were not informed their tips would be credited against the minimum wage," Hoffman said. "The law has been in effect since the early 1970s, and it's very well established. Most if not all the major restaurant chains understand this, but the Greene Turtle apparently doesn't."
The lawsuit's plaintiffs, Craig Dorsey of Gambrills and Simone D. Nathaniel of Baltimore, said the chain paid all tipped employees $3.27 per non-overtime hour, or the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour minus the tip credit. The restaurant paid $4.92 per overtime hour, according to the lawsuit.