Morrell Caterers is facing another lawsuit just days after being accused of serving non-kosher food advertised as kosher, this time from current and former employees seeking $10 million in tips they allege were denied over the past six years.
As many as 500 former servers, busboys and maître d’s claim in the lawsuit announced Thursday that the company withheld gratuities they were supposed to receive and led customers to believe that they were paying a “service charge” on their bill that would go to the wait and staff. They also allege that they were forced to give in any cash tips they received while on the job to management.
“We were actually being very deceitful to the clients, because they thought we were getting them and we weren’t getting anything,” former employee William Cataldo said during a press conference at the office of Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C. “So it was wrong on many different fronts.”
Cataldo and two other former employees, Dharmapal “Paul” Vishnudat and Roman Khaimov, filed the suit on behalf of those that work or worked for the caterer since 2006. Cataldo estimates that he was personally denied about $1 million from the company. Others involved in the suit refused to speak or be on camera for fear of retaliation.
“This is a very, very tough economy, these folks work real hard for their money, and you can’t fault anyone for not wanting retaliation and termination of a job when people have bills to pay, and sometimes, mouths to feed,” lead counsel Jeffrey Brown said.
One former hostess, Megan Johnson, just quit the company last week after working there for seven years. The Great Neck resident is currently in graduate school, and says she’s owed roughly $10,000 in tips. Her biggest issue was owner’s Scott Morell’s attitude toward his employees.
“As a person he didn’t have any acknowledgment or respect for the staff, I believe,” she said. “He didn’t even really know who we were and we were there for such a long time. I think that hurts the most.”
Morrell Caterers is one of the largest kosher catering services on Long Island. It has multiple locations, with the three primary being the Woodbury Jewish Center, Temple Beth Torah of Melville and Temple Israel of Lawrence.
A little over a week ago the former chef and general manager of the company filed a lawsuit claiming that they were told to prepare non-kosher meals in what were supposed to be kosher kitchens, a violation of Jewish law.
Morrell has denied all the charges and blamed Howard Fensterman, a defendant in an unrelated $19 million lawsuit filed by the caterer. He said that Fensterman is masterminding the allegations in an attempt to get him to withdraw his lawsuit.
“It’s all part of the Fensterman attempt to extort from Morrell,” his attorney Steven Schelesinger said of the lawsuits.
A temporary restraining order was signed that prohibits Morrell from destroying company records or assets until the case is decided.