Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2019

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Lawsuits:

Celebrity chef Rick Moonen’s restaurant settles harassment suit, now faces wage claim

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Rick Moonen.

A sexual harassment lawsuit against a restaurant at Mandalay Bay has been settled, but now the business faces a new legal headache in the form of a suit over employees’ wages.

Celebrity chef Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood restaurant and its general manager at the time, Paul Fisichella, were sued in November and February by two former female bartenders claiming Fisichella inappropriately touched them and discussed their bodies and sex acts he'd like to engage in with them.

Fisichella and RM Seafood denied the allegations and filed counterclaims against the bartenders.

The cases eventually were combined into one suit. The parties agreed last week that the suit would be settled and dismissed under undisclosed terms.

Prior to the settlement, Fisichella said he left RM Seafood to pursue other opportunities.

Before the suit was settled, the attorney for the bartenders said in court papers that besides his clients, 11 more witnesses would testify that they were harassed by Fisichella, including seven at another restaurant where he had worked, the former Stratta at Wynn Las Vegas. (The Stratta space is now occupied by the Allegro restaurant). Ten witnesses to the alleged harassment were also identified in court papers.

Wynn Las Vegas agreed to provide information to the bartenders' attorney about the circumstances of Fisichella's departure from Stratta, but only on a confidential basis. Whatever Wynn disclosed is not part of the public record.

Fisichella is now reiterating his denials of the bartenders' lawsuit allegations, saying, ''I have never sexually harassed these or any women in my life.''

Fisichella said his accusers are mostly ''ex disgruntled staff.''

''Running a successful, tight ship is something most, but not everyone, appreciates," he said.

The RM Seafood bartenders never withdrew their charges against Fisichella, and because of the settlement, a jury won’t hear anyone’s side of the story.

The former bartenders, Jennifer Kennedy and Vaiva Young, are now among a dozen former employees, including servers, suing RM Seafood in a wage case filed in June.

That suit was filed by the same Las Vegas attorney, Andre Lagomarsino, who filed the harassment cases.

The wage suit alleges that, in violation of federal and state law, RM Seafood required tipped employees to participate in an ''invalid tip pool.''

The workers claim the pool was invalid because it included managers and that tipped employees were forced to pay into the pool a percentage of their gross sales — even sales in which the patron didn’t leave a tip.

''The RM effectively took money out of the pockets of the employees,'' charges the suit, which is pending in federal court in Las Vegas and seeks class-action status to represent current and former employees.

The suit says tipped employees were required to pay 1.45 percent of their gross sales to managers, 2.5 percent to bussers, 2 percent to runners, 1.25 percent to bartenders and smaller amounts to other workers.

Attorneys for RM Seafood are fighting the suit, saying in a dismissal motion that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t prohibit tip pooling arrangements like the one at issue so long as tips aren’t used to meet minimum wage requirements.

''The complaint does not allege that plaintiffs or any other RM employees ever were paid anything less than Nevada’s prevailing wage,'' RM’s reply says.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro has yet to rule on RM’s dismissal motion.

A similar case is pending in the Nevada Supreme Court over Wynn Las Vegas’s policy requiring casino dealers to share tips with managers.

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