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Former Employees Bring $10M Suit Against Morrell

Catering company, which runs out of Temple Israel of Lawrence, also faces allegations that it tainted kosher food.

The management of Morrell Caterers, which is currently facing allegations that it tainted kosher food with non-kosher food, allegedly pocketed about $10 million in tips over the past six years that were supposed to go to as many as 500 employees, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Thursday.

“The greed has to stop,” said William Cataldo, a former maitre d’ at Morrell that is part of the suit. “We were forced to give over our gratuities. We were being deceitful to the clients,” who believed an extra “service charge” listed in contracts would be going to employees.

The suit, filed by Carle Place’s Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C., in Nassau County Supreme Court on behalf of former employees, alleges that Morrell Caterers’ violated New York labor law by withholding tips and gratuities totaling as much as $10 million that were required to be given to waiters, bussers, bartenders and others. Morrell runs out of three synagogues on Long Island: Temple Israel of Lawrence, Woodbury Jewish Center and Temple Beth Torah of Melville. The service charge was in catering contracts instead of cash tips that customers would give during or after an affair.

“The public would think twice about 18 percent gratuity if he or she knew the truth,” said Jeffrey Brown, partner at Leeds Morelli & Brown. “It was the ultimate deception.”

Brown said at a press conference at the law firm’s office that employees of Morrell would lose their jobs if they received cash tips. All envelopes containing cash tips were required by the caterer to be delivered to management, according to testimony from sales managers in documents filed in another lawsuit.

“This was a dictatorship,” said Lenard Leeds, managing partner at Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C. “They’ve been defrauding the staff and the public.”

Owner Scott Morrell’s attorney, Steven Schlesinger, said both suits are without merit.

“Everyone got every penny that they were entitled to, period,” he said. “I don’t know where these guys are coming from, but it’s just 100 percent not true.”

Former Morrell hostess Megan Johnson, of Great Neck, who recently quit, estimates that she is out about $100,000 over six years from missing tips.

“We were scared if we took something,” she said. “As a person, [owner Scott Morrell] didn’t have any acknowledgement or respect for the staff. The tips were never discussed.”

Morrell also faces allegations from the company’s former chef, Michael Savitsky, and general manager, Tom Cataldo, who own 20 percent of the company, that he had his employees prepare non-kosher food in the kosher kitchens and transported all the food in the same truck.

Two former employees, Michael Goldstein and Tracy Rubenstein, swore in affidavits that they witnessed the preparation of dairy and non-kosher foods at Temple Beth Torah’s kitchen. They also allege that Morrell posed lower-quality liquor as top-shelf liquor.

A rabbi with the Vaad of Flatbush, which supervises Morrell, said the company’s locations were handled appropriately for kosher food.

James Rotenberg February 17, 2012 at 04:34 PM
A most interesting lawsuit and allegation even if true. Is William Cataldo related to Tom Cataldo, one of the lead plantiffs in the suit against Morrell? And if so, Tom apparently is a general partner in Morrell Catering and thereby benefiting from this alledged pocketing of tips by Morrell Caterers. Further, as the Maitre d', how was Tom not aware of the tip situation? Or maybe this is a case of a one brother screwing an other brother! This is really getting weird.
Chad M. February 20, 2012 at 03:44 AM
James, I have been following your postings and I definitely agree that things are getting weird… with you! Obviously, you are an attorney; possibility even Scott Morrell’s attorney?  Because you are acting like his biggest cheerleader. If my sources are correct, I understand you are also the President of Temple Israel of Lawrence. You state that you refuse to rush to judgment; however isn’t that exactly what you have done. It is clear that you have branded Mike Savitsky and Tom Cataldo as guilty and Scott Morrell as innocent. As you know, innocent until proven guilty; although in your role, shouldn’t you be taking more of a “wait and see” approach to protect your congregation, as well as your reputation from a possible corrupt and greedy business man that has no regard for Jewish dietary laws. If these two ex-employees, Mike Savitsky and Tom Cataldo have proof of their allegations, Scott Morrell is finished and you will look like the biggest hypocrite. On another note, don’t be so “baffled” James! Perhaps you should focus more on the exemption-tax and the money you now owe. Shame on you, James for screwing the Five Towns out of money rightfully owed.

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