WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb announced a lawsuit against a D.C. restaurant, claiming that the restaurant had “systematically” stolen wages and tips from employees.
Schwalb said in a statement released Wednesday that Swahili Village DC and its executive officers failed to pay servers, hosts, food runners, bussers and bartenders.
“The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges, after a lengthy pre-suit investigation, that the defendants engaged in egregious wage theft, paid many workers far less than minimum wage (frequently paying servers as little as $5 per hour, including both wages and tips), failed to pay overtime wages, failed to distribute tips, and failed to provide legally required paid sick leave,” a statement from Schwalb’s office said.
The statement claimed that when Swahili Village DC, which opened in March of 2020, started hiring in January of 2020, it paid multiple employees $5 per hour or less, despite the minimum wage in the District being $14 per hour. Many servers said that they were “consistently paid a total of $5.00 per hour, including wages and tips,” and were never paid the difference if tips did not amount to the minimum wage.
When the restaurant had to close the dining room because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “it failed to pay many workers for work they had performed before the closure.”
OAG said that this continued even after in-person dining recovered, claiming that in 2021 and 2022, the restaurant underpaid some employees by over $5,000.
Schwalb’s statement also claimed that Swahili Village DC stole tips from employees, requiring some to turn over some or all of their tips and saying this was to distribute to other workers. Many other staff members never received a share.
D.C. law also requires restaurants to provide notice or explanation of its tip-sharing policy, but the statement said that Swahili Village DC never did so.
OAG also claimed that Swahili Village DC did not give employees any paid sick leave as D.C. law requires.
“When employees were injured or sick, including with COVID-19, they were not paid and were often verbally reprimanded for missing work. Other employees came to work while sick or injured because they could not afford to stay home without pay,” the statement said.
The restaurant further did not pay overtime if employees worked more than 40 hours in a week and did not keep required employment records, OAG claimed.