Here in Washington D.C., restaurants aren’t just a way for lawyers to spend money on expense account lunches. For a few enterprising lawyers, the booming restaurant business is also a way to make money by pursuing wage law violations — often on behalf of immigrant and lower-income workers — against the restaurants that hire them, as Washington City Paper reported earlier this month.
According to the article, lawyers like Justin Zelikovitz, of DC Wage Law and Gregg Greenberg in Maryland have built successful niche practices out of representing traditionally unrepresented restaurant workers. From the article:
Just three years after leaving Maryland Legal Aid and launching his practice, the 33-year-old Zelikovitz has gone from using just a single room in a Chinatown townhouse to renting the entire building. He is one of several attorneys who have discovered that suing District restaurants over wage law violations doubles as doing good and doing good business.
Zelikovitz and attorney Jonathan Tucker, who left Maryland Legal Aid last year to join the firm, benefit from wage law violations they say can often be caused by scofflaw managers or ignorance among restaurant owners. They have more than 30 active cases, with nearly 20 others on payment plans.
Zelikovitz’s wage and hour lawsuits don’t just target some of the fly-by-night eateries. The firm has also succeeded in suing trendier restaurants – though at least some of the more successful dining establishments remain compliant by hiring lawyers to review their payroll practices.
With a new Commander-in-Chief who himself has been the subject of lawsuits by blue collar workers, it’s possible that other businesses may be emboldened to follow in his footsteps which would create even more work for wage and hour lawyers. On the other hand, it’s also possible that some of the federal regulations on overtime adopted by Department of Labor, now on hold pending review could be rolled back entirely, thus removing at least one potential cause of action.
But for now and the foreseeable future, it seems that wage and hour lawsuits will keep Zelikovitz and other lawyers with similar practice busy in one of those rare practice areas where serving justice is even more satisfying than an expense account meal at a five-star restaurant. Bon appetit!