Downtown Lexington restaurant denies wage theft allegations in multiple lawsuits

Lexington Herald-Leader

Tony’s Steak and Seafood, a downtown Lexington restaurant, has denied allegations that it committed wage and tip theft after the restaurant was sued by former employees in both state and federal court.

The two lawsuits were filed by former bartender John Harley, who filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court, and former employee Christopher Sullivan, who filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Both lawsuits featured similar accusations against the restaurant. Harley’s lawsuit alleged that the restaurant forced him and other tipped employees to participate in a tip pool that gave portions of their tips to salaried members of management, including the maitre d’, who is not named in the suit.

Harley’s lawsuit alleges that the tip pool violated the Kentucky Wages and Hours Act, which allows restaurants to pay hourly employees less than minimum wage because the tips make up the difference. According to the suit, Harley, who now lives in Nashville, was a bartender at Tony’s Steaks & Seafood from January 2016 through March 2017.

During that time he was paid about $5 an hour, the suit claims. The extra $2.25 an hour to reach Kentucky’s minimum wage and the extra $5.88 and hour for overtime wages was supposed to come from his tips, but Harley’s lawsuit claims by forcing employees to share tips the restaurant forfeited the legal right to claim the tip credit.

But Tony’s filed a reply to Harley’s lawsuit last week denying that they required Harley and other tipped employees to contribute their tips to salaried employees. The restaurant denied that remitting tips to others was a mandatory requirement of being employed.

The restaurant’s representatives also said in the reply that they did utilize a tip credit for each hour worked by tipped employees in order to comply with state law on minimum wage.

According to court documents, Tony’s management denied all the claims made by Harley. In addition, they asked that the lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice, and that the restaurant receive repayment for costs, attorney’s fees and any other relief they could be entitled to.

Sullivan’s lawsuit, filed in federal court, has been scheduled for a trial in July, although Tony’s Steak and Seafood has filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss that lawsuit too.

According to the lawsuit, Sullivan worked at Tony’s from February 2015 through May 2021 and was paid less than minimum wage. The restaurant claimed the tip credit on his wages in violation of federal and state labor laws, according to the lawsuit.

As of Monday afternoon, another individual named John Saltigerald had filed court documents seeking to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff. The lawsuit was a potential class-action suit.

Tony’s Steak and Seafood filed a legal reply to Sullivan’s lawsuit in July. The restaurant admitted to paying less than minimum wage to tipped employees, but stated they utilized a tip credit per hour to be compliant with minimum wage and did not require tipped employees to share tips with other members of management.

The restaurant’s representatives denied all other allegations made by Sullivan, with the exception of certain claims to the way their business operated.

Reporter Janet Patton contributed to this story.