A federal judge ordered the owners of go-go boy gay Atlanta bar BJ Roosters to pay a former bartender nearly $70,000 in back wages and unpaid overtime after willfully skirting federal labor law and ordering him to pay kickbacks to the bar.
The court order, issued Friday, ends one wage and labor lawsuit against the popular Cheshire Bridge Road bar. But BJ Roosters faces two other lawsuits over similar issues.
U.S. District Judge Richard Story awarded $33,741.55 in unpaid minimum wages and overtime, $33,741.55 in damages, and attorney's fees to Richard Martin, a bartender and door attendant at the bar from May 2010 to July 2013. The order came Nov. 20, 10 days after a bench trial in the case against Jobo's, Inc. – the corporate parent of BJ Roosters – that started when Martin sued nearly two years ago.
The case was a blistering condemnation of the bar's employment practices and adherence to federal labor law:
Defendants have not borne their burden of proving that they acted in good faith in failing to pay Martin any wages whatsoever prior to January 1, 2013.
Defendants have not borne their burden of proving that they acted in good faith in failing to pay Martin the minimum wage as reduced by the tip credit for all hours worked in 2013.
Defendants have not borne their burden of proving that they acted in good faith in requiring Martin to pay a $5.00 cleaning fee during each night bartending shift he worked.
Story said the bar's treatment of Martin was more than “merely negligent,” but in fact “willful beyond dispute.”
“In this case, where Defendants paid Martin no wages at all for his service as a bartender for two and one half years, and then paid him minimum wage as reduced by the tip credit based on an arbitrary calculation of his hours worked that compensated him with substantially less than his actual hours worked, willfulness is beyond dispute,” Story said in his order.
The case showed that prior to Jan. 1, 2013, BJ's employed Martin and other bartenders on a tip-only basis, failed to pay a minimum wage and overtime after that date, and required bartenders to pay $5 at the end of each night shift as a “cleaning fee.” Story also ruled that BJ's failed to keep adequate employment records showing wages and hours.
Bar faces two more suits over wages
The case is likely to impact a second federal lawsuit the club faces from a longtime bartender. Gary Drews, who worked there from February 2006 to September 2014, sued the bar in November 2014 claiming federal labor violations and unpaid wages – accusations similar to the ones in Martin's successful lawsuit.
On Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Orinda Evens granted a 20-day extension – tied to the court findings in the Martin case – for both sides to file motions for summary judgment.
Drews also alleges that his compensation was solely tips, that he wasn't paid a minimum wage or overtime, and that he had to pay 20 percent of the tips he earned back to the bar. The lawsuit also alleges that Drews was required to repay cash drawer shortages and had to pay a $5 cleaning fee at the end of each night shift he worked.
Drews also claims in the lawsuit that the bar reduced his hours in February 2014, a move that cost him the health insurance provided by the business. But BJ's did not provide him with written notification as required by law, according to the lawsuit.
“As a result of Defendants' cancellation of his health insurance under the Plan without notice, Mr. Drews has incurred expenses for medical care beyond what he would have incurred had his insurance coverage not been cancelled and Mr. Drews been given the statutorily required notice in order to obtain replacement coverage,” according to the lawsuit.
Drews' lawsuit is seeking unpaid minimum wages, overtime pay, damages, compensation for past and future medical expenses and attorney's fees.
In a March 20 response, BJ Roosters said it hadn't “engaged in wrongful acts” and denied the allegations in Drews' lawsuit.
BJ Roosters also faces a Dec. 7 trial in a third lawsuit, this one filed by a dancer who sued over wage issues in November 2013. Charles Allen, a go-go dancer at the club from December from 2012 to August 2013 – alleges he is owed minimum wage for his work there. He sued to receive unpaid wages for past work and damages for “all unpaid wages, illegal kickback payments, interest, attorney’s fees and costs and all other allowed forms of relief.” At least nine other dancers at the bar joined the lawsuit in January 2014.
Bobby Hamill, a BJ's co-owner, has told media outlets that that bar has done nothing wrong. Attorneys for the gay bar denied the allegations in Allen's lawsuit and have denied that the bar violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. The bar argues that its dancers are independent contractors.
Hamill did not respond to a request for comment this week about the lawsuits.