Five former grillers at celebrity chef and internet sensation Salt Bae’s Nusr-Et steakhouse chain filed a lawsuit alleging that the restaurants cheated them out of overtime wages by misclassifying them as managers. The lawsuit has been reported on CNBC and in Newsweek.
The wage theft lawsuit alleges that the former employees—all of whom are Turkish citizens and were recruited by Nusr-Et to move to the United States to work in the restaurants—regularly worked seventy-two hours or more per week as meat grillers in the kitchens at Nusr-Et steakhouses in New York, Miami, and Dallas, but were unlawfully paid on a salary basis that failed to compensate them at time-and-a-half for overtime hours worked. In the restaurant industry, workers may only be classified as “exempt” from the overtime wages requirement if their primary duty is management of the restaurant, they regularly direct the work of at least two other full-time employees, and they have influence over decisions about the hiring, firing, or promotion of other employees.
Although Nusr-Et classified the grillers as exempt Sous Chefs to avoid paying them overtimes wages, their primary duty was grilling meats in the kitchens, and they did not have any managerial authority, the lawsuit alleges. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law, cooks and kitchen workers are required to be compensated for work hours over forty at time and one-half of their regular pay rate. Paying back of the house workers on a salary deprives them of the overtime pay that they are entitled to under the law.