ATLANTA — Editor’s Note: The above video is from previous coverage of this story.
A possible settlement is approaching after a lawsuit claimed that an employee who worked for star metro Atlanta restaurateur Aisha “Pinky” Cole went unpaid, according to a recent August court filing.
Attorneys for the former employee and the entrepreneur said they are discussing the settlement in a motion filed in late August. An extension was then filed a couple of days later to further the talks through October.
Discovery, which is when parties exchange information about the case, was set to close on Sep. 12. Court filings show that attorneys need more time to go through all of the invoices for every single work week and take depositions from key witnesses. So, they need another 90 days. This is the second extension.
Another important takeaway, court documents show that parties have recently engaged in “meaningful settlement discussions.” This was submitted by attorneys representing both parties on Aug. 28.
The court found that parties have had ample time, but Judge J.P. Boulee granted the motion to briefly extend discovery through Dec. 11 and says it will be the final extension.
The original lawsuit was filed last year in November. Shortly after the suit went public, the entrepreneur denied the allegations.
Morgan Georgia, the former employee, said in the original filing that she worked for Cole at Bar Vegan in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market for two and a half years. She also sued Cole’s two co-owners, Aaron Mattison and Jason Crane, as well as the business itself.
Georgia accuses the three owners of demanding 25% of the employees’ tips, while also paying them below minimum wage. The minimum wage in the Peach State is $7.25.
“25 percent of the tips go to the house. That is our policy. If you don’t like it, find another place to work,” the owners allegedly told employees.
11Alive previously spoke to an Atlanta attorney who said that taking any portion of the employee’s tips is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The attorney also stated that any amount the employee makes in tips above $7.25 an hour also belongs to the employee, and employers cannot take any portion of it.
According to the original lawsuit, “While Defendants can require Plaintiffs to give a portion of their tips to other tipped employees as part of a valid tip-pooling arrangement, Defendants cannot require Plaintiffs to give any portion of their tips to non-tipped employees and Defendants cannot simply retain the tips… for operational expenses and other improper and unlawful purposes under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act).”
Georgia says in her lawsuit that she and other employees “regularly questioned Defendants during their shifts, at staff meetings and when receiving their paychecks about the significant percentage of their tips that Defendants retained. At times, Defendants told Plaintiffs that retained tips were provided to bar backs at Bar Vegan, but the bar backs did not receive the retained tips.”
The restaurateur denied the allegations from the lawsuit in an Instagram post just months after the filing going against the advice of her lawyer.
A second lawsuit involving three employees at a Brooklyn location was filed in federal court alleging that they were never paid promised bonuses and that their overtime wages were suppressed.
The second suit also cited the Fair Labor Standards Act as the employees sought their unpaid wages and additional damages. It is unclear if a settlement has been discussed in this case.
11Alive reached out to an attorney for Cole and for the plaintiffs. Both declined to comment.