Chef José Andrés Blames “Glitch” For Underpayment Controversy

An employee at Mercado Little Spain has sued the restaurateur

José Andrés
José Andrés, pictured here in 2012, was at the center of an underpayment scandal involving his restaurant Mercado Little Spain.
Bob Nichols/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / August 31, 2019 8:00 am

When it opened earlier this year in Hudson Yards, José Andrés’s Mercado Little Spain earned rave reviews. At Eater in May, Robert Sietsema wrote that “it’s already a formidable place for a visit and a meal.” Coming up with a precise description for the space isn’t easy; Sietsema’s review describes Mercado Little Spain as a “combination food court, grocery store, meat and cheese market, curio shop, and restaurant destination.”

But now, Mercado Little Spain has drawn attention for something other than the quality of its food. Grub Street’s Nikita Richardson reports that a bartender working there has filed a suit against Andrés and Hudson Hall LLC. The details are worrisome, especially given Andrés’s philanthropic reputation.

“The bartender, Tina Braunstein, alleges that she was not paid proper overtime wages, or the $15 an hour that goes to employees who work for more than ten hours in a day. She also alleges that she was forced to share tips with non-service employees, and is “seeking unpaid wages, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees, and ‘other legal and equitable relief as this court deems just and proper.’” The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York.” 

Andrés responded to the lawsuit by arguing that a glitch in the payroll system was responsible. “I apologize to everyone who was underpaid,” he wrote on Twitter. “We’re correcting it today.”

Braunstein’s lawyer remains unconvinced, arguing that there may be payroll law violations involved. Whatever the cause of the issue, it seems that this conflict won’t be resolved quickly.

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