A lawsuit concerning Hyman Seafood Co.’s illegal practice of charging employees for theoretical broken glasses and dishes is headed to trial.
Hyman’s has already admitted in court documents that its breakage fee policy violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, but the restaurant’s attorney says the amount of money owed is at issue. “They’re claiming that he owes more money than he does,” Alice Paylor of the Rosen Hagood firm says of owner Eli Hyman.
Paylor declined to comment on what figure her client would consider fair.
As first reported by Bloomberg BNA, approximately 160 former and current employees have joined the group suing Hyman’s.
In a deposition, Hyman said he didn’t consult an attorney or payroll expert before instituting the policy under which bartenders, servers and bussers were charged a few dollars each shift to offset breakage costs. Federal labor law prohibits employers from extracting business costs from their employees’ wages.
“A lot of people who worked there probably never broke a plate,” attorney Bruce Miller told The Post and Courier after he filed the original lawsuit in 2014.
It’s now up to a jury to determine whether the labor violation was willful, meaning Hyman’s “knew or showed reckless disregard” that breakage fees are illegal. In his June 30 opinion, Judge Patrick M. Duffy of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina referenced Hyman’s failure to seek counsel prior to assessing the fee, warning that “courts have found similar actions sufficient to constitute reckless disregard for whether the policy violated the FLSA.”
If the violation is found willful, the statute of limitations will stand at three years instead of two.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin next month.
Marybeth Mullaney, one of the plantiffs’ attorneys, says Charleston’s reputation for hospitality is largely a reflection of its restaurant employees’ hard work. “It will be my privilege to help them tell their story to a jury,” she adds.