Darden Restaurants Accused of Firing Workers in Pay Suit

Darden Restaurants Inc., which operates under the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and other brand names, was accused in federal court of wrongly firing two workers in retaliation for joining a wage dispute.

After hearing requests from Amanda Emerson and Lisa Long, U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, today denied an injunction to restore their jobs at a Bahama Breeze restaurant in Altamonte Springs, Florida, because it didn’t meet strict legal criteria. The judge said the decision was better left to a jury.

Rosenbaum said she was “troubled” that Darden officials have questioned employees involved in the lawsuit, and told them not to question any of the 54 plaintiffs without notifying lawyers.

The motion heard today was part of a broader lawsuit filed Sept. 6. Workers sued Orlando, Florida-based Darden under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, alleging restaurant managers delayed servers’ clocking in on the job, made them work after clocking out, and failed to pay them overtime.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and group status in behalf of other workers who aren’t plaintiffs. Named in the complaint are some workers from Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other restaurants across the U.S.

Darden has denied the allegations and said it complied with the FLSA. “Any actions taken in connection with plaintiffs’ compensation were done in good faith,” the company’s lawyers said in court papers.

The case is in the discovery phase, with lawyers collecting documents and interviewing potential witnesses. The complaint seeks unpaid wages, damages and legal costs.

Darden said it employs more than 185,000 people, owns more than 2,000 outlets and has $8 billion in annual sales.

The case is Mathis v. Darden Restaurants Inc., 12-cv-61742, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Fort Lauderdale).