Diners at Seattle’s Melting Pot location may have noticed more than just menus, glassware and fondue on their tables during recent visits: management has also been serving up notices of a 3-4% price hike at their restaurant, a surcharge they say is used to cover higher minimum wage costs in Seattle. Yet Melting Pot employees never saw the extra money ponied up by customers, and attorneys at Emery Reddy have filed a new lawsuit on their behalf claiming that franchise owner Lane Scelzi pocketed the surcharge revenue while paying employees as little as $11.50 per hour — a rate that falls well below Seattle’s official minimum wage.
The class-action lawsuit alleges that hundreds of workers experienced wage violations and were systematically underpaid at the Queen Anne Melting Pot restaurant. As former server Kaitlyn Carlson told the Seattle Times, “I felt like I was played, like I was taken advantage of.” The restaurant’s minimum-wage surcharge notices only added insult to injury, she explained, and made her feel like the Melting Pot was “taunting” those workers. Carlson, an 18-year-old Issaquah resident, is one of three plaintiffs in the suit.
According to the Seattle Times report, and records from Seattle’s Ethics and Election Commission, Scelzi has donated to the campaign to repeal the wage increases, although the surcharge placard given to customers claims his statement is in no way political — just as attempt to explain how he’s covering the bills.
“We are happy for our dedicated team members, and we are pleased they are able to take advantage of these increases in wages and benefits,” Scelzi wrote on the placard. An additional sign was displayed for customers at the host stand by the front door, announcing a surcharge of first 3% and later 4%.
The lawsuit Emery Reddy filed on behalf of these employees claims they were paid $11.50 an hour last year, and received no medical benefits. Yet Seattle’s minimum wage law currently requires large employers like the Melting Pot to pay $16 an hour; in 2018, that rate was between $15 and $15.45, depending on health benefits.
In the Seattle Times article, Carlson estimates she may have been underpaid by at least $4,000 over the year. The suit also includes two other plaintiffs, server Derek Etter of Renton and server Nolan Morgan of Seattle. Their attorney, Tim Emery, said he can’t say at this time how many other employees have experienced these wage violations, or how much income they’ve lost over the years. But under Washington State law, workers are typically entitled to double damages for willful wage violations.
In an interview with the Seattle Times, Emery characterized the plaintiffs as “young, brave,” and “just [seeking] justice for themselves and their co-workers.”
According to Seattle city law, businesses are required to post minimum wage rates and information on wage theft in visible locations where employees can easily see it. Yet the plaintiffs claim that the restaurant did not comply with those rules either. Carlson is quoted as stating that some of her co-workers had transferred to the restaurant from outside locations like Bellevue, where minimum wages are lower, and may have been unaware that they were legally entitled to higher pay in Seattle.
It is the responsibility of Seattle’s city government to enforce compliance with minimum-wage laws through the Office of Labor Standards. According to the department’s records, it has launched over 150 investigations into businesses accused paying less than the minimum wage. OLS also claims that it has recovered nearly $780,000 for 1,200 workers.
Emery Reddy is an award-winning workers’ compensation, L&I, injury and employment law firm. Emery Reddy has helped thousands of workers throughout Washington state recover lost wages, workers’ compensation benefits, and medical expenses for work-related injuries. We also represent workers who have experienced a wrongful termination, workplace discrimination, or are facing a denied L&I claim. We help workers.