Duchess faces lawsuit from former employee

The Main Street Duchess restaurant. (Google)

A Norwalk man is suing Duchess Restaurant of Norwalk, Inc. and Duchess Worldwide, Inc., and their top brass, with charges that include unpaid wages and retaliation.

Jonathan Fortier alleges the defendants violated Federal and Connecticut law by failing and refusing to pay him overtime at the rate of time-and-a-half his regular hourly rate, failing to pay him all wages due, refusing to allow him a day of rest after working excessive consecutive days, retaliating against him for requesting a day of rest, retaliating against him for seeking to take a sick day, and retaliating against him for taking a sick day after he worked an excessive number of consecutive days, regularly working 12 or more hours each day and more than 60 hours each week.

Represented by Attorney Matt Miklave, Fortier seeks payment of unpaid wages, liquidated damages, reinstatement to his former position or front pay in place of reinstatement, consequential damages, punitive damages, prejudgment interest, post-judgment interest, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in bringing the action.

The lawsuit was filed Monday.  Named as defendants are Michael Berkowitz, President and Treasurer of Duchess Norwalk, Gary Lavin, Vice President of Duchess Norwalk and President of Duchess Worldwide, and John Doe and Mary Roe, unknown individuals responsible for paying employees.

Duchess Worldwide operates 12 Duchess restaurants in Southern Connecticut, including the Norwalk store, the federal lawsuit states.

Fortier was hired in November 2021 at a flat rate of $400 a week to clean, typically seven days per week, three hours per day, starting at 3 a.m. and ending at about 6 a.m. or later, the lawsuit states. He was paid cash and when he protested, a manager told him he had been paid using the deductions and tax reporting information of a co­-worker who shared a room with him. He was told this would be “better” as fewer taxes and deductions would be withheld.

He objected and the following December, Duchess accepted Fortier’s Withholding Certificate and began paying him by check and later by direct deposit, the complaint states.

In March 2022, Fortier asked for additional work and was hired to do prep work, preparing food for sale, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., and sometimes longer, seven days a week, the lawsuit states. He was paid minimum wage for the prep work, signing in and out of work using a computer-based time system, and the flat rate for the cleaning.

When he exceeded 40 hours doing prep work, he received time-and-a half, the lawsuit states. But his cleaning hours were not factored in, therefore shorting him on overtime.

In October 2022, he stopped doing the cleaning work. In Spring 2023, Fortier asked about overtime paid and was told that only managers get overtime, according to the complaint. Fortier believes the Milford Duchess was investigated by the United States Department of Labor, which found four violations of federal law.

On June 23, Fortier asked for a sick day due to working an exceptionally long period without a day of rest, the complaint alleges. His manager said he’d be replaced if he took a sick day and Fortier worked as usual.

In July, he asked for a day off and was told he’d have to take three, the complaint alleges. He did take a day off and defendants retaliated by cutting his hours from and average 48.6 hours a week to 23.8 hours a week. He asked for paystubs or paychecks and received a partial summary of some of his working hours.

He was then effectively terminated on Oct. 3, according to the complaint. A manager blamed an unrelated altercation he’d had with his roommate the week before. Fortier believes this was a pretext and states that another Duchess employee had been arrested in the altercation yet continues to work for Duchess. Fortier did not receive a pink slip as required by State law.

The lawsuit charges that Duchess is guilty of:

  • Failure to Pay Overtime Under Federal Law
  • Failure to Pay Overtime Under State Law
  • Retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Individual Liability for Failure to Pay Wages (Berkowitz, Lavin, Doe and Roe)
  • Retaliation for Seeking a Sick Day Under State Law
  • Retaliation for Seeking a Day of Rest

Fortier seeks damages, back pay, reinstatement to his job, interest, costs and attorney’s fees, and “other and further relief as justice and equity require.”


One response to “Duchess faces lawsuit from former employee”

  1. Alma Soto

    People like to talk crap when they they know what happe d

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