No Star Treatment for Celebrity’s Employees

  • Sumo
Abendbrot restaurant salad, by pixabay user RestaurantAnticaRoma, licensed by Creative Commons.

Here’s a tip: keep your employees happy

Actress Jessica Biel has played many roles on the big screen, but she is now playing a very different part – that of defendant.

Recently, nine employees accused the Hollywood star and her business partners, including Estee Stanley, Joey Gonzalez, Kimberly Muller, and Jonathan Rollo, of withholding gratuity that they were legally entitled to collect.  The employees, who were mostly former employees, are suing Biel and Au Fudge for fraud, stealing employee gratuities, and other damages. Plaintiffs contend that the owners pocketed gratuity collected at private events, which reached over $430,000. Additionally, plaintiffs claim to be victims of other illegal payroll practices, including not receiving compensation for overtime work and other wage withholdings. The disgruntled employees also accuse the restaurant owners of denying them meal and rest breaks that they were legally entitled to.

According to the lawsuit, the restaurant’s owners have collected considerable revenue from private parties and special events since the establishment opened. Private parties can cost up to $10,000, while buy-outs, where customers rent the restaurant, can cost over $100,000. Both have an integrated 22% gratuity charge. Industry events have accounted for a large portion of the allegedly stolen gratuities, including a Netflix party in July 2016 with an $80,200 bill and a $13,271 tip. Plaintiffs claim to have never received their portion of those earnings. In the lawsuit, they are requesting repayment of those proceeds along with $31,549 to compensate for missed rest breaks and $1,000,000 in punitive damages. When one of the employees confronted an owner about the missing monies, she was told “don’t worry about it,” and there was no more mention of payment.

As it turns out, the recent accusations are the latest of the upscale eatery’s troubles. A previous chef quit, and the establishment has had trouble obtaining the requisite permits for several issues, including the combined children’s space and bar. In March 2016, Biel admitted that the restaurant was “definitely not making money.” The restaurant’s owners have not responded to media inquiries for information, but they have announced that they are prepared for a defense in court. Plaintiffs are specifically requesting a jury trial as the case progresses.

Au Fudge opened in 2016. The West Hollywood restaurant, a self-described “social club” for families, features organic, all-natural meals and decadent gourmet cakes. Its kid-friendly atmosphere includes family activities and a creative space for children.