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Mineola, NY - New Allegations: Former Employees Bring $10M Suit Against Kosher Caterer

Published on: February 17, 2012 10:04 AM
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William Cataldo, center left, in black, with attorneys and other former employees of Morrell Caterers. Credit StephenJ.BronnerWilliam Cataldo, center left, in black, with attorneys and other former employees of Morrell Caterers. Credit StephenJ.Bronner

Mineola, NY - 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.

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“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.


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Read Comments (33)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 17, 2012 at 10:08 AM MosheM Says:

Okay, until now I had a doubt, but now it's clear this is one big extortion plot.

2

 Feb 17, 2012 at 10:16 AM bklyn Says:

Uh oh..,does not smell good

3

 Feb 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM yankle Says:

"Kosher caterer"?? more like Jewish themed caterer.

4

 Feb 17, 2012 at 10:34 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
MosheM Says:

Okay, until now I had a doubt, but now it's clear this is one big extortion plot.

To the contrary. Its the "roach motel" theory of corruption. When you find one, there is more likely than not to be many. The absence of chasdishe or equivalent top of the line hashgacha would be a serious issue alone. The fact that multiple employees have come forward to claim that tips were withheld, an unfortunately frequent practice in the restaurant and catering business, is further indication of some potential problem. Maybe the Morell family was unaware of all these issues, but that itself speaks to an even bigger problem.

5

 Feb 17, 2012 at 10:52 AM bored Says:

Reply to #1  
MosheM Says:

Okay, until now I had a doubt, but now it's clear this is one big extortion plot.

bingo. but lets not jump to conclusions and assume that there wasn't a problem with the kashrus. we just now know why the employees suddenly "cared" enough to report it.

6

 Feb 17, 2012 at 10:56 AM PMOinFL Says:

Reply to #1  
MosheM Says:

Okay, until now I had a doubt, but now it's clear this is one big extortion plot.

You got it!

These "staff" people are paid a salary. They are not typical "restaurant" waiters who make 90% of their pay from tips. Besides, who tips their waiter at a catering hall?

Many businesses have a policy that staff are not permitted to take tips.

Here in Florida, Publix grocery store baggers will always offer to take your groceries out to your car. You are asked not to tip for this service. Once, after an exceptionally large shopping trip I allowed a bagger to help me. I was insistent on giving him a tip, but he told me that if he took it he would just have to turn it in to the office because he could get fired if he was seen taking it and not turning it in.

Mr. Morrell has an absolute right to maintain a "no tips" policy in his business. These waiters are paid a normal wage that is NOT based on tips like restaurant waiters are.

7

 Feb 17, 2012 at 11:29 AM shredready Says:

Reply to #6  
PMOinFL Says:

You got it!

These "staff" people are paid a salary. They are not typical "restaurant" waiters who make 90% of their pay from tips. Besides, who tips their waiter at a catering hall?

Many businesses have a policy that staff are not permitted to take tips.

Here in Florida, Publix grocery store baggers will always offer to take your groceries out to your car. You are asked not to tip for this service. Once, after an exceptionally large shopping trip I allowed a bagger to help me. I was insistent on giving him a tip, but he told me that if he took it he would just have to turn it in to the office because he could get fired if he was seen taking it and not turning it in.

Mr. Morrell has an absolute right to maintain a "no tips" policy in his business. These waiters are paid a normal wage that is NOT based on tips like restaurant waiters are.

true

but when he is charging an 18% gratuities fee the customer assume it goes to the waiters or staff

why would Publix not allow customers to give tips if they want. The guys are not exactly well paid

8

 Feb 17, 2012 at 11:33 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
PMOinFL Says:

You got it!

These "staff" people are paid a salary. They are not typical "restaurant" waiters who make 90% of their pay from tips. Besides, who tips their waiter at a catering hall?

Many businesses have a policy that staff are not permitted to take tips.

Here in Florida, Publix grocery store baggers will always offer to take your groceries out to your car. You are asked not to tip for this service. Once, after an exceptionally large shopping trip I allowed a bagger to help me. I was insistent on giving him a tip, but he told me that if he took it he would just have to turn it in to the office because he could get fired if he was seen taking it and not turning it in.

Mr. Morrell has an absolute right to maintain a "no tips" policy in his business. These waiters are paid a normal wage that is NOT based on tips like restaurant waiters are.

We don't know the facts of this specific catering hall but the norm for many such establishments in the NYC metropolitan area is that there is a separate "line item" in the catering estimate for "tips/service/gratuities" that is charged to the baal simcha so the issue could be that the owner was NOT giving this money (in all or part) to his employees. It is also not unusual for guests who got good service to tip the waiters/bartenders etc. although you are correct that is not required. However, even though these are normally part-time jobs, the hourly paychecks given to employees is rarely enough to live on and sometimes its clear that some tips are also expected/required.

9

 Feb 17, 2012 at 11:40 AM Butterfly Says:

We do not have all the facts, but where there is smoke, there is fire!! I would not eat there until this place was checked out 200%!! (By Rabbanim whom we trusted!!)

10

 Feb 17, 2012 at 11:45 AM LEEAVE Says:

this whole thing is puzzling to me,

no idea Y a ruv would give a hashgucha to a caterer who is not shomer shaboss, and no idea Y real jews would order their simch from a caterer thats not shomer shabos?

i wouldnt eat anything from any1 thats not an observant jew, let alont eat steak he prepared in some kitchen!

11

 Feb 17, 2012 at 11:49 AM Duvid Says:

I made 4 chasenes un all heimishe halls...Allmof the tapped on at least $700.00 for tips and after the bentching the head waiter asked me for a tip..I told him i paid it in the bill so why are you asking me now for more..He said they do not get that money..I asked the caterer and he told me that this they call x-tra fee and its NOT a tip...
So i believe the same happened in this case..Bottom line when you get billed for a TIP and its not going for tips so when they billed me $350.00 for Mashgiach i wonder if there was ever a nashgiach there..I understand caterers are getting very narrow margins those days due to competition from the low cost halls but what dosent belong to you should be given to those hard working people...Most waiters are college students who ned this money to pay their college and after studying 8 hours a day they work 6-8 hours waiters...

12

 Feb 17, 2012 at 11:57 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
PMOinFL Says:

You got it!

These "staff" people are paid a salary. They are not typical "restaurant" waiters who make 90% of their pay from tips. Besides, who tips their waiter at a catering hall?

Many businesses have a policy that staff are not permitted to take tips.

Here in Florida, Publix grocery store baggers will always offer to take your groceries out to your car. You are asked not to tip for this service. Once, after an exceptionally large shopping trip I allowed a bagger to help me. I was insistent on giving him a tip, but he told me that if he took it he would just have to turn it in to the office because he could get fired if he was seen taking it and not turning it in.

Mr. Morrell has an absolute right to maintain a "no tips" policy in his business. These waiters are paid a normal wage that is NOT based on tips like restaurant waiters are.

"Besides, who tips their waiter at a catering hall?

The clients don't tip the waiters directly, but tip the maitre d. 20% is the usual amount. My family has always tipped the banquet manager at least 20% when the affairs were great and everyone enjoyed themselves.

13

 Feb 17, 2012 at 12:33 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #11  
Duvid Says:

I made 4 chasenes un all heimishe halls...Allmof the tapped on at least $700.00 for tips and after the bentching the head waiter asked me for a tip..I told him i paid it in the bill so why are you asking me now for more..He said they do not get that money..I asked the caterer and he told me that this they call x-tra fee and its NOT a tip...
So i believe the same happened in this case..Bottom line when you get billed for a TIP and its not going for tips so when they billed me $350.00 for Mashgiach i wonder if there was ever a nashgiach there..I understand caterers are getting very narrow margins those days due to competition from the low cost halls but what dosent belong to you should be given to those hard working people...Most waiters are college students who ned this money to pay their college and after studying 8 hours a day they work 6-8 hours waiters...

This never would have happened with a Chassideshe mashgiach...you don't need to tip them since they are working l'shem mitzvah and are not looking for additional handouts beyond what they are paid by the caterer. Nor would any chassideshe hashgacha work for a caterer who billed their clients for tips to the service staff and then pocketed the money for themselves.

14

 Feb 17, 2012 at 12:33 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
PMOinFL Says:

You got it!

These "staff" people are paid a salary. They are not typical "restaurant" waiters who make 90% of their pay from tips. Besides, who tips their waiter at a catering hall?

Many businesses have a policy that staff are not permitted to take tips.

Here in Florida, Publix grocery store baggers will always offer to take your groceries out to your car. You are asked not to tip for this service. Once, after an exceptionally large shopping trip I allowed a bagger to help me. I was insistent on giving him a tip, but he told me that if he took it he would just have to turn it in to the office because he could get fired if he was seen taking it and not turning it in.

Mr. Morrell has an absolute right to maintain a "no tips" policy in his business. These waiters are paid a normal wage that is NOT based on tips like restaurant waiters are.

I made 2 Bar Mitzvah & 2 weddings in NY and it is an added expense on the bill for tips for the waiters staff, I think it was about $200-$300 for each affair

15

 Feb 17, 2012 at 01:30 PM Small buisness operator Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

To the contrary. Its the "roach motel" theory of corruption. When you find one, there is more likely than not to be many. The absence of chasdishe or equivalent top of the line hashgacha would be a serious issue alone. The fact that multiple employees have come forward to claim that tips were withheld, an unfortunately frequent practice in the restaurant and catering business, is further indication of some potential problem. Maybe the Morell family was unaware of all these issues, but that itself speaks to an even bigger problem.

Couldn't disagree with you more,
As an employer the attitude I get from most of these entry level employees is that they are "entitled" to my money simply because they show up!
on more than one occasion they've in formed me that I'm "rich" (which I am not), therefore they are entitled to shake me down. They've been raised and schooled in a culture of "entitlement". I suspect that the last chapter of this saga has yet to be written.

16

 Feb 17, 2012 at 01:34 PM honestbroker Says:

Reply to #11  
Duvid Says:

I made 4 chasenes un all heimishe halls...Allmof the tapped on at least $700.00 for tips and after the bentching the head waiter asked me for a tip..I told him i paid it in the bill so why are you asking me now for more..He said they do not get that money..I asked the caterer and he told me that this they call x-tra fee and its NOT a tip...
So i believe the same happened in this case..Bottom line when you get billed for a TIP and its not going for tips so when they billed me $350.00 for Mashgiach i wonder if there was ever a nashgiach there..I understand caterers are getting very narrow margins those days due to competition from the low cost halls but what dosent belong to you should be given to those hard working people...Most waiters are college students who ned this money to pay their college and after studying 8 hours a day they work 6-8 hours waiters...

Don't know who your caterer was, but I too have made weddings and bar mitzvas. The tip was built into the caterers bill. Any headwater or waiter that asks you for a tip is simply Shakeing you down!!

17

 Feb 17, 2012 at 01:44 PM Duvid Says:

Reply to #13  
Anonymous Says:

This never would have happened with a Chassideshe mashgiach...you don't need to tip them since they are working l'shem mitzvah and are not looking for additional handouts beyond what they are paid by the caterer. Nor would any chassideshe hashgacha work for a caterer who billed their clients for tips to the service staff and then pocketed the money for themselves.

Sorry send me your email address and i will show u on my bill $350.00 for mashgiach in a hall which has heimishe hecsher,,,

18

 Feb 17, 2012 at 01:46 PM Duvid Says:

Reply to #16  
honestbroker Says:

Don't know who your caterer was, but I too have made weddings and bar mitzvas. The tip was built into the caterers bill. Any headwater or waiter that asks you for a tip is simply Shakeing you down!!

Sorry its not me who got shaken down..its the Waiter who got shaken down...His tip was included in my bill and he asked me because he dosent get anything from the caterer...Come on Wake up and SMELL the Coffee..(caffianated)

19

 Feb 17, 2012 at 02:23 PM PMOinFL Says:

Restaurants, catering establishments and the like are allowed to add "gratuities" to the bill so long as it is disclosed in advance. However, they never tell you how that money is distributed or what it is for.

Owners of restaurants and catering establishments are required to make sure that all of their staff makes at least minimum wage. If they were never promised "tips" above that wage, then they have no complaint. The "gratuity" line item on the bill could be strictly for the planners at the catering hall. They don't tell you what it is for.

This is a frivolous lawsuit. Unless the workers were promised those tips, they are entitled to NOTHING. Those who paid the gratuities COULD be entitled to the money back IF they were specifically told that the money goes directly to the waiters on top of their regular salary. It they were not promised that SPECIFICALLY, there is no problem here.

This poor family is being shaken down by criminals and thieves.

Is Mr. Morrell shomer Torah umitzvos? No. But, 75% of his kosher catering is for non-frum. Frei yidden who don't care about kosher didn't eat treif that one night because of Mr. Morrell. That's SOMETHING.

20

 Feb 17, 2012 at 03:01 PM thechef88 Says:

Reply to #13. You are living a dream Most caterers keep the tip money to cover labor expense. Anyone would be happy to receive something extra to help cover living expenses. I have yet to see anyone work lshem shamayim. Unfortunately you stil have to pay the bills. Doing kiddushim in the same shul, I was asked numerous times if I appreciated the tip they gave the boss for me. I always thanked them even tgough I never received it. Stupid me!!!

21

 Feb 17, 2012 at 04:11 PM 5towns Says:

According to a letter in the local paper from Rabbi Billet who I think is the Rabbi of the YI of Woodmere, the Vaad of Flatbush has only mashgiachim tmidim at all the glatt kosher events that this caterer does. All the supplies are locked and only the mashgiach has the key. I am not sure why you think a chassidish hechsher would be better. When they cater non glatt that is where the monkey business can happen, but it is altogether possible that the employees have a grudge and know that if you accuse him of not serving kosher he will be out of business. Since I only eat glatt, I am not worried, that is why we have hashgacha and I trust the mashgichim. Also the glatt portion of the business has closed circuit camera running to make sure no one is accessing anything they aren't supposed to.

22

 Feb 17, 2012 at 04:50 PM walkinsilence Says:

Reply to #15  
Small buisness operator Says:

Couldn't disagree with you more,
As an employer the attitude I get from most of these entry level employees is that they are "entitled" to my money simply because they show up!
on more than one occasion they've in formed me that I'm "rich" (which I am not), therefore they are entitled to shake me down. They've been raised and schooled in a culture of "entitlement". I suspect that the last chapter of this saga has yet to be written.

The last chapter has not yet been written. One lives & dies by the contract. It will easy enough to determine if there was a "tip" charge.

23

 Feb 18, 2012 at 07:46 PM Insider Says:

Who are you going to believe? The paid kashrus certifies who comes aroung every so often to collect his check? Or the ones that actually have the keys, have 24/7 access, and now swear in a legal affidavit that the foods are NOT kosher? The presumption of being kosher, unfortunately, has been lost.

24

 Feb 18, 2012 at 10:17 PM bigwheeel Says:

It's beginning to smell more like "Shevach" every day. I'm afraid some Choshuve people are going to be left with egg on their face.

25

 Feb 18, 2012 at 10:25 PM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #9  
Butterfly Says:

We do not have all the facts, but where there is smoke, there is fire!! I would not eat there until this place was checked out 200%!! (By Rabbanim whom we trusted!!)

There is nothing for Rabbanim to check out. 200% or more. If non-kosher food was cooked and transported in close proximity or the same premises, there is no way prove or disprove it at this time.

26

 Feb 18, 2012 at 10:29 PM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #10  
LEEAVE Says:

this whole thing is puzzling to me,

no idea Y a ruv would give a hashgucha to a caterer who is not shomer shaboss, and no idea Y real jews would order their simch from a caterer thats not shomer shabos?

i wouldnt eat anything from any1 thats not an observant jew, let alont eat steak he prepared in some kitchen!

And the mere fact that the caterer is Shomer Shabbos or wears white socks on Shabbos is not enough to rely on the kashrus of his establishment.

27

 Feb 18, 2012 at 10:33 PM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #13  
Anonymous Says:

This never would have happened with a Chassideshe mashgiach...you don't need to tip them since they are working l'shem mitzvah and are not looking for additional handouts beyond what they are paid by the caterer. Nor would any chassideshe hashgacha work for a caterer who billed their clients for tips to the service staff and then pocketed the money for themselves.

Pleasant dreams.

28

 Feb 18, 2012 at 10:41 PM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #19  
PMOinFL Says:

Restaurants, catering establishments and the like are allowed to add "gratuities" to the bill so long as it is disclosed in advance. However, they never tell you how that money is distributed or what it is for.

Owners of restaurants and catering establishments are required to make sure that all of their staff makes at least minimum wage. If they were never promised "tips" above that wage, then they have no complaint. The "gratuity" line item on the bill could be strictly for the planners at the catering hall. They don't tell you what it is for.

This is a frivolous lawsuit. Unless the workers were promised those tips, they are entitled to NOTHING. Those who paid the gratuities COULD be entitled to the money back IF they were specifically told that the money goes directly to the waiters on top of their regular salary. It they were not promised that SPECIFICALLY, there is no problem here.

This poor family is being shaken down by criminals and thieves.

Is Mr. Morrell shomer Torah umitzvos? No. But, 75% of his kosher catering is for non-frum. Frei yidden who don't care about kosher didn't eat treif that one night because of Mr. Morrell. That's SOMETHING.

You have an interesting view of the situation. Being an optimist and viewing the proverbial cup as half full is nice, but in this particular case we are also concerned about the minority of people who DO eat kosher. What if their food was mixed with non-kosher food?!

29

 Feb 19, 2012 at 12:45 AM PMOinFL Says:

Reply to #28  
bigwheeel Says:

You have an interesting view of the situation. Being an optimist and viewing the proverbial cup as half full is nice, but in this particular case we are also concerned about the minority of people who DO eat kosher. What if their food was mixed with non-kosher food?!

What if? What if.... what?

The ONLY full-time kosher operation is the one in Woodbury. It is under the Flatbush Vaad. Nobody has made any accusations about that location.

Their OTHER locations do both kosher and non-kosher affairs. They also do "kosher style" type affairs at these "reform" places. These goyim who made the accusations don't know the difference, and it is not their job to know the difference. When the "reform" people come and say "this is kosher", these goyim don't know that it is not REALLY kosher, so they don't understand when they see shrimp at a supposedly "kosher" affair.

When they do events that are ACTUALLY kosher, the vaad will come and kasher the kitchen and there is a mashgiach timidi in the kitchen from the Flatbush Vaad.

This family has been in the KOSHER catering business for DECADES and there is not the slightest shred of evidence to show that something they claimed was kosher was NOT kosher. None.

30

 Feb 19, 2012 at 08:44 AM Respect Says:

Please remember that the Vaad of Flatbush ONLY certifies the "glatt kosher" affairs and these are at the Woodbury location. These are still completely reliable and glatt kosher, with mashgichim temidim who have the only keys and access.

The allegations being made are about non-glatt kosher affairs where there was no mashgaich on premises, and were being hosted in non-Orthodox shuls. If you wouldn't eat non-glatt, or you wouldn't eat from a non-Orthodox hashgacha, this "news' wouldn't affect you.

31

 Feb 19, 2012 at 09:12 AM Insider Says:

With all due respect to the Vaad of Flatbush, this kashrus certification has been compromised. There is no such thing as not being able to secure duplicate keys. The mashgiach temidi is only there, supposedly, during food preparation and during the affair. The mashgiach temidi, according to all accounts, is not there 24/7. The accusations are viable. Everyone here readily agrees that the "reform" locations are unquestionably invalidated. The issue of the entreprise having non-Jewish (let alone non-observant Jews) is troubling. Their producing and serving kosher and non-kosher foods, no matter however separated, disqualifies any kosher certification. Would such "kosher" food business be accepted in Williamsburg, Boro Park, or even Flatbush ? I, for one, am sorely disappointed with the Flatbush Vaad. I have wrongly assumed that their standards were much higher. Hebrew National, in comparison, is much more acceptable. No question of treifos or sheratzim were ever ascribed to Hebrew National. Yet, Hebrew National is not accepted in the aforementioned observant neighborhoods. With all due apologies, Morrell's, with or without the Flatbush Vaad's certification, is absolutely unwelcome.

32

 Feb 19, 2012 at 11:32 AM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #29  
PMOinFL Says:

What if? What if.... what?

The ONLY full-time kosher operation is the one in Woodbury. It is under the Flatbush Vaad. Nobody has made any accusations about that location.

Their OTHER locations do both kosher and non-kosher affairs. They also do "kosher style" type affairs at these "reform" places. These goyim who made the accusations don't know the difference, and it is not their job to know the difference. When the "reform" people come and say "this is kosher", these goyim don't know that it is not REALLY kosher, so they don't understand when they see shrimp at a supposedly "kosher" affair.

When they do events that are ACTUALLY kosher, the vaad will come and kasher the kitchen and there is a mashgiach timidi in the kitchen from the Flatbush Vaad.

This family has been in the KOSHER catering business for DECADES and there is not the slightest shred of evidence to show that something they claimed was kosher was NOT kosher. None.

But the former employees claim that the strictly kosher facility was contaminated, too. That is the concern here.

33

 Feb 20, 2012 at 04:39 PM PMOinFL Says:

Reply to #32  
bigwheeel Says:

But the former employees claim that the strictly kosher facility was contaminated, too. That is the concern here.

Can you show me where they made that accusation? I cannot find that ANYWHERE.

34

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