Investigation Reveals Deplorable Plight Of Restaurant Bathroom Attendants

Attorney General Spitzer said today that an investigation by his office of the working conditions of bathroom attendants in exclusive New York City restaurants has found that the workers were not receiving any wages -- in clear violation of state labor law.

The investigation found that the attendants – who often have limited skills and language ability – worked for tips only and were forced to pay a fee to a private staffing service for the opportunity to work in restaurant bathrooms.

As a result of the investigation, several restaurants have agreed to hire 36 people who had been serving as bathroom attendants and, in some cases, compensate the attendants for past unpaid wages.

Simultaneously, the attorney general announced a lawsuit against the main placement service for bathroom attendants. The lawsuit seeks recovery of money that was taken from these individuals.

The Attorney General is also asking 30 restaurants using the placement service to voluntarily bring their establishments into compliance with the minimum wage law and other relevant labor laws and to help eradicate this illegal practice.

"The idea of people working without wages and having to pay a fee to stand in a bathroom and wait for tips is unconscionable," Spitzer said. "The arrangement violated state labor law, and deprived people of the dignity of the minimum wage."

In a settlement signed this week, Leroy Adventures, Inc. d/b/a Tavern on the Green, agreed to hire 14 workers on a full time basis and to ensure they receive the minimum wage as well as all tips. Tavern on the Green will also pay up to $175,000 to compensate the attendants for minimum wage under-payments for the past five years.

A similar agreement was reached with BR Guest, which operates numerous restaurants including Ruby Foo's Times Square, Ruby Foo's Uptown, Atlantic Grill, Blue Water Grill, Dos Caminos, Ocean Grill and Isabella's. BR Guest has agreed to hire 21 bathroom attendants to staff bathrooms at the five locations.

Spitzer thanked the restaurants for working with his office to address the matter.

Also today, the Attorney General filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against Royal Flush, the main placement service for bathroom attendants. The complaint alleges that the company required workers to pay a "lease fee" proportional to the tips collected during each shift – a practice that is illegal under state labor law.

Further investigation revealed that after the appropriation of the lease fee, workers' often took home only $5 per hour, and sometimes less than $2 per hour.

The lawsuit against Royal Flush and its principals, LeRoy Porter, and Donna Williams, seeks $1.1 million in damages and $2.9 million in restitution for unpaid wages and unlawfully appropriated tips. It also seeks an injunction preventing Royal Flush from appropriating tips and failing to pay any wages to its workers.

Spitzer's office began its investigation after receiving complaints from bathroom attendants associated with Royal Flush.

The case is one of a series to enforce fundamental provisions of the state labor law. In earlier actions, the Attorney General's office obtained settlements that provide back wages and other benefits to supermarket deliverymen and green grocer employees.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General James Versocki of the Labor Bureau, with the assistance of Assistant Attorney General Donya Fernandez, under the supervision of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith.

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