ATHENS — A class action lawsuit initiated by two former employees of the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Athens has resulted in a $1.55 million settlement.
The wage-related case, initially filed in 2017 by Zachary Barton and Ethan Forness, involves servers and bartenders at 10 Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Ohio and Arizona. The lawsuit named Lancaster Wings Inc. (and related companies) and franchise owner Larry Tipton of Lancaster as defendants.
U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley approved the settlement Aug. 24, which calls for payments to 1,263 people who worked at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants sometime between Sept. 1, 2014 and April 23, 2018.
Of those in the settlement class, 210 will receive the minimum settlement amount of $50, with the other amounts ranging up to the high of $7,078 awarded to one worker. The average amount received by a worker from the settlement is $787.
These settlement amounts do not represent the full amounts of wages that were alleged to have been owed the eligible settlement class members, according to a document filed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Barton was awarded $2,320 and Forness was awarded $1,190, although each is also to receive a $5,000 service award from the settlement for participation in the lawsuit.
“From the beginning Zach and Ethan were focused on doing what’s best for their similarly situated co-workers,” said one of their attorneys, Michael Fradin. “This lawsuit demonstrates the power of employees acting collectively.”
Six other workers who opted into and participated in the lawsuit will each receive $500 service awards in addition to their regular awards.
The lawsuit claimed that the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Ohio minimum wage law and the Ohio Constitution were all violated by failing to pay tipped workers their earned minimum and overtime wages. Under certain conditions, employees who receive tips can be paid less than minimum wage.
Among the allegations were that: servers and bartenders were required to perform duties unrelated to their tip-producing jobs; that they were required to spend excessive amounts (more than 20 percent) of their overall time each week doing non-tip-producing tasks related to their tipped jobs; and that employees were required to work off the clock.
Tipton and company denied wrongdoing in their response to the lawsuit, and the settlement agreement also says the defendants deny wrongdoing.
“Although the parties do not abandon the positions they took in the (court) action, they believe that continued litigation would be protracted, expensive, uncertain and contrary to their best interests,” the settlement states.
Fradin said he believes the $1.55 million settlement could have wider impact that just this case.
“I think other restaurants will take notice of this settlement,” he said.
Attorneys for the defendants did not return phone messages Friday from The Messenger seeking comment.
Coming from the $1.55 million settlement will be about $465,000 in attorney fees that will be split between the law firms of Fraden and Douglas Werman, the attorneys who represented Barton and Forness. They were also awarded $12,412 from the settlement for out-of-pocket expenses.
Also, the court approved $14,000 from the settlement to pay Rust Consulting to administer the settlement. The settlement agreement outlines the steps the consultant must take to try notify by mail the restaurant workers who have been awarded part of the settlement. If settlement checks go undelivered or are not cashed within a specified period of time, 25 percent of the remaining settlement money is to go to the National Empowerment Law Project, which according to its website “fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and the unemployed.” The remaining 75 percent of the leftover settlement funds will go back to the defendants.
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Steve Robb is a Messenger staff journalist