Lawsuit filed against Here to Serve moves forward, employees still owed money

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Lawsuit filed against Here to Serve moves forward, employees still owed money

A lawsuit filed against Here to Serve restaurant group, CEO Leigh Catherall and Oasis Outsourcing staffing company on Oct. 8 is moving forward, according to Gary Kessler, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of more than 40 Here to Serve employees.

The suit, filed Oct. 8, was filed after hundreds of Here to Serve employees were left without jobs and their final paychecks when 10 of the restaurant group's restaurants, including Twist, Noche and Shucks, were shuttered without warning on Oct. 5. Employees had still not received paychecks for work from mid-September to Oct. 5, according to the lawsuit, which accuses the defendants of violating the Fair Labor and Standards Act. Employees later received two weeks worth of pay, but are still owed for one week.

Tom Catherall, who was originally named in the suit, is no longer involved, Kessler said. Leigh Catherall became owner and CEO of Here to Serve in 2012, when the restaurants’ ownership was transferred to her as part of her divorce settlement with Tom Catherall. The transfer led in part to Here to Serve being named in a federal court lawsuit in 2014 by the owners of Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square in Buckhead, seeking to have Twist at Phipps and Prime at Lenox evicted from the malls. The lawsuit alleged Tom Catherall breached the leasing agreement by failing to disclose he had transferred ownership of the restaurant.

The defendants have been served fomally with the complaint and must respond at the beginning of November. Discovery can start within 30 days after that, although Kessler said he is trying to speed up the process. 

"Most importantly at this point is for the employees to get their last paychecks, due this Friday, and for them to be able to find jobs," Kessler said via e-mail. 

Cary Ichter, the attorney representing Here to Serve and Leigh Catherall, told the AJC on Oct. 8 that several of the Here to Serve closings were not permanent and said he filed a lawsuit against Oasis, alleging that the company used money earmarked for employee paychecks to pay down a Here to Serve debt without their approval. Ichter did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

A representative for Oasis Outsourcing, also named in the suit, said via e-mail "Oasis Outsourcing, Inc. regrets the effect the closure of the Here to Serve restaurants will have on their many employees.  Our relationship with Here to Serve terminated weeks ago, and we are not privy to Here to Serve’s decision to close its doors. We do not have any funds belonging to Here to Serve."

Since the restaurant closings, the Atlanta service industry has stepped up en masse to help the employees left suddenly without jobs. Restaurant industry non-profit The Giving Kitchen has set up several fundraisers to benefit Here to Serve employees, including a potluck dinner this Monday, Oct. 19 at from 3 p.m.-8 p.m. at Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall.

More than 100 local restaurants, bars and other businesses have posted job openings to a Facebook page set up by a former Here to Serve employee.

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