Primanti Bros. could have significant liability for alleged wage law violations, worker advocate says

By Carrie Salls | Sep 29, 2016

PITTSBURGH – If the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed against Primanti Bros. can prove alleged wage law violations, the company will likely face significant liability, according to a senior adviser for the organization Workplace Fairness.  

Lead plaintiff Chelsea Koenig, a Primanti employee, alleged in her lawsuit filed Sept. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania that she was not properly paid, claiming that the defendants took advantage of the wage law’s “tip credit” provision. Specifically, Koenig alleges that the restaurant company took illegal deductions from her pay.


“It should be relatively easy to configure a payroll system,” Workplace Fairness senior adviser Paula Brantner told the Pennsylvania Record.


The class covers “tipped employees” who work or have worked for one of the restaurants operated by Primanti. The complaint said the company hires bartenders, servers, barbacks, bussers and food runners as tipped employees.


According to the complaint, the employment practices on which the lawsuit is based “occurred at all of Primanti Bros. locations, as defendants utilized common labor policies and practices at each of their locations.”


According to the lawsuit, there are 23 Primanti Bros. locations in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 12 outside of Pennsylvania and two new locations in the works in Indiana and Michigan.


Branter said tip credit and the amount of minimum wage required to be paid in Pennsylvania are issues in this case. She said the employer appeared to be paying the plaintiff in accordance with federal law, but not the higher state amount.


Because of the defendant's allegedly illegal failure to properly inform tipped employees of its plans to utilize a tip credit, the lawsuit claims that the defendant improperly applied that credit against wages paid.

As a result, the complaint alleges that the plaintiff and other tipped employees are receiving less than the mandated minimum wage.


The lawsuit also alleges that Primanti Bros. violated the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law and common law by subjecting tipped employees to unlawful deductions from their wages to cover some of defendants’ business expenses, such as customer walkouts and cash shortages.


“As a result of the aforementioned pay practices, plaintiff and the members of the classes were illegally under-compensated for their work,” the suit said.


Even if there was a mistake made in payroll, Brantner said, the wages in question are still owed to the employee.


“It’s their legal obligation to get it right,” Brantner said. “They should know better. They just can’t get away with that.”


Brantner said another issue in the Koenig lawsuit is off-the-clock time, which she said is quite common.


“That is an issue that is so systemic in the restaurant industry,” Brantner said.


Brantner said it is common for collective actions filed against a company that has a presence in multiple states to be filed under both the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the applicable state laws, as some states have more rights than under federal law, and some do not.


Koenig has requested a jury trial and is seeking an injunction against the defendant, unpaid minimum wage, liquidated damages, court costs and any further relief granted by the court.

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