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HOME > Top Chef > Top Chef: New York

'Top Chef' judge Tom Colicchio accused of wage and tip violations


By Christopher Rocchio, 12/15/2008 

While Tom Colicchio's culinary skills are considered above reproach, some of the business aspects in one of his restaurants have reportedly come into question.

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Top Chef's lead judge was sued in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday by a former waitress that accuses his company of misappropriating employee tips, withholding some overtime pay and sometimes failing to pay minimum wage, The New York Times reported Friday.

Nessa Rapone -- who was previously employed at Colicchio's Craftbar restaurant in New York City -- alleges in the lawsuit that his company Craft Worldwide Holdings improperly shared employee tips with other workers who were not eligible under federal and state law to share in the tip pool and also did not keep proper time records, according to The Times.

In addition, Rapone claims she was fired from Craftbar in May 2007 when she protested.

"The Craft restaurants, all upscale establishments designed by well-known architects and catered by award-winning chefs, have earned Mr. Colicchio and his partners great success," one of Rapone's lawyers, Justin M. Swartz, said in a statement.

"This success, however, has come at the expense of the restaurants' hourly service workers to whom the defendants have denied proper minimum wages, overtime compensation, and tips they earned from customers."

Colicchio denied Rapone's allegations and called the lawsuit "baseless."

"We're confident that a thorough investigation in the courts will find that Craftbar and Craft Worldwide Holdings have conducted themselves with the highest integrity and concern for the well-being of their employees," he told The Times.

Colicchio added all his company's eateries "pay overtime to all tipped and nontipped employees according to federal and state labor law."

"We collect and distribute 100 percent of all gratuities received," he told The Times.  "We never distribute tips to any nontip-eligible employees."

Rapone's lawyers are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

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