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Rowhouse ex-workers sue over alleged labor law violations

Seven former Rowhouse Bakery & Restaurant employees have sued its owners over alleged violations of state and federal labor laws.

Rowhouse owners forced them to clock out before finishing shifts, charged service fees for events but did not pay them to workers and violated other wage laws, the federal lawsuit claims. It was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on Nov. 29.

Rowhouse's owners disputed the claims. They “will vigorously defend themselves against the false and baseless allegations, made by a small handful of former employees, in the appropriate legal forum,” they said in a statement.

Since opening in October 2017, the restaurant “has implemented rigorous policies and procedures to help ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations governing the small family owned business, including all those related to compensation, payroll, gratuities and other human resources practices,” the statement said.

The former employees allege that owners Sean Tuohey, Mark Jaworski and Myriah Jaworski, who is an attorney, were told about the violations, but did not correct them.

“Employers like Rowhouse prey upon a culture of silence that exists in the restaurant industry,” said Emily Staebell, a University at Buffalo School of Law student representing the plaintiffs as part of its Community Justice Clinic. “The defendants knew that they were violating the law, and they thought they could get away with it.”

In a statement, Rowhouse painted a different picture.

“We are grateful for the support Rowhouse has received from customers, neighbors and the entire community since we decided to invest in Buffalo’s resurgence and rehab our restaurant’s historic Delaware Avenue building and opened its doors just over one year ago,” Sean Tuohey said.

“Most importantly, the talented team we have in place today, and the working environment we provide for our employees, has been critical to Rowhouse’s appeal and success.”

A former Rowhouse worker approached the law school clinic after learning of a wage case filed against the owners of William K’s early this year, Staebell said.

At Rowhouse, employees were directed to clock out, ending their paid time, but continue working on end-of-shift duties, the suit alleges.

The Rowhouse lawsuit alleges that after some events, Mark Jaworski told staffers he was giving them only the part of the service fee he thought they deserved, or said he was using the money to pay maintenance workers.

Restaurant workers whose start and end times are more than 10 hours apart are legally entitled to an extra hour's pay, Staebell said. "One of our plaintiffs knew about the law and specifically brought that up to Mr. Jaworski," said Staebell. Jaworski allegedly didn't follow up.

"We know that these violations are happening elsewhere," Staebell said. "Our plaintiffs' main goal is to put this out there in the public so other restaurant workers in the Buffalo community can see that they have rights, and be inspired to act on them."

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