A Denny's Restaurant. A Denny’s restaurant. Photo: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock.com

A prospective wage employment class action lawsuit has been filed against about 20 Denny’s restaurants in Connecticut for allegedly failing to pay its servers at least the minimum wage for non-service-related duties.

The lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 19 on behalf of current employee Valarie Nettleton, alleges C&L Diners LLC—owners of most of the state’s Denny’s franchises—routinely failed to separate its servers’ non-service and service duties. The complaint alleges the 48-year-old Nettleton, who began working at the Westbrook Denny’s in November 2016, would be assigned non-service work, usually prior to and after her shift, but also during her shift. The franchise, the complaint alleges, is in violation of the state’s Minimum Wage Act.

While the law allows Connecticut eateries to pay servers the server minimum wage of $6.38 an hour, it requires them to pay the state’s $10.10 minimum wage when employees are performing non-service duties and therefore not earning tips. Denny’s repeatedly failed to comply, according to Michael Petela Jr., Nettleton’s attorney.

“She has been underpaid by thousands of dollars,” said Petela, an associate with Hayber Law Firm in New Haven. Because plaintiff counsel have yet to receive wage records from the company, it’s not clear how much Nettleton is owed, Petela told the Connecticut Law Tribune on Tuesday.

“There are two requirements that were not met that are pertinent to this lawsuit,” Petela said. “One of those is the tip requirement of segregating work. They did not do that. The second is the employer must obtain from the employee a statement stating their weekly wages that exceed the minimum wage. That also was not done.”

All of the servers and past servers in the approximate 20 Denny’s franchises owned by C&L Diners in Connecticut who worked from Nov. 1, 2016, to the present are eligible to be part of the suit if it’s classified as a class action. It’s not clear how many people fit that category, but Petela said, “it’s in the hundreds.”

Petela said he’s confident the case, which was filed in New Haven Superior Court and has yet to be assigned a judge, will be victorious.

“We are optimistic because wage theft permeates throughout the restaurant industry,” Petela said. “Restaurants routinely ignore the tip credit requirements because it financially benefits them. In addition, servers lack the resources to enforce their rights and the Department of Labor lacks the resources to enforce the rights of all servers in the state. This affects some of the most economically vulnerable workers in the state.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, C&L Diners had not assigned an attorney to the case. The only named defendant in the lawsuit is Daniel Chu, managing member and owner of C&L. Chu, who is based in Canoga Park, California, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Petela, who is seeking double damages plus attorney fees, said, “It will certainly be in the six figures based on the number of employees, if not the seven figures.”