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Willows Inn resolved a class action lawsuit for $ 600,000 alleged wage theft

The Willows Inn – Lummi Islands nationally renowned gourmet restaurant – has agreed to pay $ 600,000 to run a restaurant Class action for alleged wage theft. In the 2017 lawsuit, former employees accused Willows Inn chef and co-owner Blaine Wetzel and management of “failing to pay the minimum wage for all work done, overtime wages, and the provision or payment of rest and meal breaks under Washington law. „In October 2020 both parties reached an agreement.

The lawsuit – what the Seattle Times first reported – related to a notice of labor infringement received by the restaurant around four years ago at around the same time. At the time the Willows Inn paid $ 149,000 in unpaid wages and damage to 19 kitchen workers after an investigation by the Ministry of Labor (DOL). In its 2017 report, the Department of Labor claimed Willows Inn „violated fair labor law by not paying its employees overtime and a minimum wage.”

According to the DOL report 2017The Willows Inn broke labor law by having its „steps” – culinary interns who usually work for free in upscale restaurants – work up to 14 hours a day with no overtime and with daily rates as low as $ 50. In response, the restaurant stopped its staging program, but denied any wrongdoing – and continues to push back the allegations today.

„After more than three years in which attorneys defended us against these claims, we had to settle because of the ongoing and increasing legal fees,” Wetzel told Eater Seattle, emphasizing that the allegations were „in no way accurate”. He added that the wording used in the lawsuit is „a tool that this specialized law firm is using to significantly tighten a quote we received from 2016.”

Wetzel also stated that the restaurant has not approved “employees” or “unaccredited interns” since receiving the Department of Labor quote in 2016 and currently complies with all Washington state wage and labor laws.

The Seattle Times reported that 99 non-regulatory employees were identified as members of the class action and will receive a portion of the settlement amount, reclaiming about 75 percent of the loss of wages. Under the terms of the agreement, it is documented that Wetzel and the defendants do not admit any wrongdoing, and the former employees who originally filed the lawsuit are bound by a confidentiality policy.

After COVID measures delayed their usual annual opening schedule in March 2020, the Willows Inn resumed operations last summer in limited capacity. As a seasonal operation, it is currently closed for the winter.

Eater Seattle has reached out to the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and will update this article as more information becomes available.