Former employees of the now-closed Out of the Blue restaurant on White Street won a federal court case Tuesday seeking back pay and unpaid wages.
How much money the shuttered restaurant and its owner, Mary Pfund, will have to pay remains to be seen, as more employees are expected to file claims, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Todd Shulby of Davie.
It took a jury about an hour to find that Pfund violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a federal law mandating that employers pay their employees a minimum wage.
“I feel vindicated,” said former employee Robert “Kip” Edwards, who spearheaded the case and persuaded 13 other former employees to join him in the lawsuit. “She (Pfund) only owed me about $1,200, but it was the other guys who I knew were owed much more that I was fighting for.”
Edwards said he believes the amount is at least $100,000.
“There were some people who, from the moment they started working, didn’t get paid for as long as six weeks,” he said.
Shulby said he has 30 days to gather and submit to the court financial information from all the plaintiffs, including anyone who comes forward now.
Key West attorney David Van Loon, who represented Pfund, blamed Kenneth Franciose, who he said was supposed to be running the restaurant, but allegedly stole more than $200,000 from Pfund.
“My client … is the victim of a con artist who was defrauding her and her employees all along,” Van Loon said. “Unfortunately, she and her employees were left holding the bag.”
Pfund reported Franciose to the Key West Police Department, and is considering filing a civil action against him as well, Van Loon said.
“We have notified the authorities,” but Franciose has long skipped town, Van Loon said.
Franciose is wanted on two Monroe County criminal warrants: one issued in February for the grand theft of a motor vehicle and the other issued in October for grand theft of less than $5,000.
Neither alleged crime involves Out of the Blue, according to Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin.
Whether Pfund appeals depends on how much in damages are sought.
“Everything costs money, including an appeal, and she has none,” Van Loon said. “She’s in a tough position.”
Shulby said he expects more similar cases to be filed in Key West in the coming months. He also represents former employees of Fat Tuesday Key West and the Conch Republic Seafood Co. in similar lawsuits pending in federal court. Both establishments are co-owned by James Reed and Jeffrey Gunther.
“You’re going to see more of these (lawsuits) in Key West as more and more employees begin to realize they do have rights and seek to assert them,” Shulby said. “There is something they can do about it and this case proves it. I’m seeing more and more employees in Key West who are not willing to take this lying down, who are not willing to succumb to the ‘bubba system’ and fight back.”
Out of the Blue was at 1019 White St. It opened in fall 2009 and closed in early 2010.
U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King is presiding over the case.
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