Editor's note: A previous version of this article mistakenly reported that roughly 100 current or former employees will receive a pay-out from this settlement. In actuality, more than 1,200 of those employees will receive money from the roughly $1 million settlement fund.
A federal class-action lawsuit filed by two former Athens Buffalo Wild Wings employees against the company that owns that restaurant has been settled, resulting in a $1.55 million collective action settlement against the company.
U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley approved the settlement on Aug. 24 in the suit brought by Athens resident Zachary Barton and Florida resident Ethan Forness – both former server/bartenders at the Athens BWW – against Lancaster Wings Inc.
The suit alleged that the company – which owns seven BWWs in Ohio and three in Arizona – violated the Fair Labor Standards Act in at least four ways, largely related to tipped employees allegedly performing “non-tipped” work and being underpaid for that work. The suit also alleged that the cost of uniforms were deducted from employees’ pay; that they weren’t paid when forced to work off the clock; and that servers and bartenders were required to reimburse their restaurant when customers left without paying the bill.
After some fees and about $5,000 each going to the two former Athens employees, and a sizable $465,000 chunk going to their legal counsel, the rest of the $1 million in settlement money will be held in a fund that will disburse money owed to more than 1,200 current or former employees of the franchise.
According to the settlement agreement between the Lancaster Wings company and the plaintiffs filed earlier this year, that amounts to a minimum of $50 for some employees, although most are set to receive between $100 and $1,000. In dozens of cases, though, employees will receive between $1,000 and $3,000, with a some employees even set to receive between $5,000 and $7,000. Eligible “settlement class members,” according to the lawsuit, are allowed to claim up to 57 percent of their alleged wages owed.
Despite the settlement, neither of the parties “abandon the positions they took in the action,” according to the agreement.
“Defendants (Lancaster Wings) deny all claims as to liability, wrongdoing, damages, penalties, interest, fees, injunctive relief, and all other forms of relief, as well as the collective allegations asserted in the Action,” the settlement notes. “Defendants further deny that this Action is appropriate for collective treatment for any purpose other than settlement.”
Forness and Barton’s lawyer, Mike Fradin, who has offices in Athens and Illinois, said last week that the lawsuit alleges employment practices that are “very common” in the restaurant industry.
“(This includes) making tipped workers pay for walk-outs, making tipped workers pay for their uniforms, and making tipped workers spend time doing non-tip generating work while being paid less than minimum wage,” Fradin said. “From the beginning, Zach and Ethan were focused on doing what was best for their similarly situated coworkers, who at the Athens location consisted heavily of single moms, colleges students, and others who could not afford to be paid less than their full wages.
“This settlement demonstrates the power of employees acting collectively,” Fradin added.
Judge Marbley ordered that the case be dismissed without prejudice, although the dismissal will convert to a dismissal with prejudice after 210 days without “further action of the court.”
Forness is an Ohio University grad, and Barton is a current OU student.