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Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Vikram singh, Mar 28, 2010.

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  1. Vikram singh

    Vikram singh
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    A federal lawsuit accuses two upscale bar lounges in Sant Singh Chatwal's Dream Hotel of labor law violations.

    The "chilled out vibe" at controversial hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal-owned Dream Hotel's Ava Lounge, which boasts of being "part Riviera, part Rome with inflections of South Beach," is getting decidedly frostier.

    Eight former cocktail waitresses and bartenders at the lounge, located in the penthouse of the Chatwal-owned Dream Hotel in Manhattan, as well as Rm. Fifty5, a bar in the hotel's lobby, are suing in federal court, charging that they were not paid minimum state and federal wages, overtime and tips.

    The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern District of New York also alleges that employees were forced to purchase uniforms, pay for altering and laundering them and charged for customers who failed to pay their bills.

    "In addition," the lawsuit alleges, "plaintiff's paychecks routinely reflected fewer hours than they in fact worked. One manager said that regardless of the actual length of a shift worked by tipped employees, he wrote down they worked for eight hours." Although employees "routinely worked 12-hour shifts," a manager told them "it was defendants' policy not to pay employees for more than 40 hours per week, no matter how many hours they worked."

    The lawsuit names Chatwal and his son Vikram Chatwal, as well as business partner Ric Addison and their companies Broadway Regency Restaurant and Broadway 55th Lounge as defendants. The lead plaintiff, Christine Anderson, worked as a cocktail waitress and bartender at Ava Lounge and Rm. Fifty5 for over six years from May 2003 to October 2009. Six others -- Sara Adler, Hodan Bulhan, Teresa Rivera, Lencolle Estevez, Dragana Tatic and Charkamaly Sidney -- worked at the lounges for one to three years. One plaintiff, Elizabeth Cardon, had worked there for less than five months.


    The plaintiffs' attorney, Denise A Schulman, of Joseph, Herzfeld, Hester & Kirschenbaum law firm, said she is asking the court to designate the case as a class action. She said it was too early to place a dollar value on the claims or the total number of people in the class as "the information to make that determination is with the defendants."

    According to the lawsuit: "All the class members were subject to the same corporate practices ... of failing to pay minimum wage, overtime, and spread of hours compensation; illegal retention of tips; illegal deduction of wages; and requiring them to purchase and maintain uniforms without reimbursement."

    The complaint asserts, "Current employees are often afraid to assert their rights out of fear of direct or indirect retaliation (and) former employees are fearful of bringing claims because doing so can harm their employment," so a class action allows those not named in the complaint "a degree of anonymity which allows for the vindication of their rights while eliminating or reducing these risks."

    The statute of limitations for the various state and federal wage allegations in the lawsuit vary from three to six years. Asked why the employees had waited for so long to assert the claims, Schulman said, "Speaking in general, often employees are not aware that their rights have been violated or even realize they have those rights."

    Brendan McNamara, vice president for brand development at Hampshire Hotels, told Little India that Chatwal was traveling overseas and unavailable for comment at press time. However, he clarified that Hampshire Hotels itself is not a party to the lawsuit and simply leases the lounges to the operating companies. The lounge operators, however, are owned by Chatwal, according to the lawsuit. Little India has sought comments from Chatwal and will update the story if and when a response is forthcoming. Chatwal is enmeshed in a raging public controversy in India over his bankruptcies in the 1990s and accusations of fraud in loans from Indian banks after he was named for a Padma Bhushan award, India's third highest civilian honor, in January.

    The Ava Lounge website boasts, "Nothing compares to the Rooftop's panoramic views of the Hudson River to Times Square. From Sunset to nightfall the city lights of Broadway compete with starry skies creating an unforgettable experience of the city."

    The lawsuit would have us believe the scene inside is not quite as idyllic.


    Frosty Vibes at Chatwal's Ava Lounge
     
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