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.