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Lawsuit: Woodberry Kitchen used ‘shift pay’ to shaft workers on overtime

The owners of Woodberry Kitchen and its sister restaurants do not pay prep cooks daily wages unless they work 10-hour shifts, according to a potential class-action federal lawsuit filed Friday.

Spike and Amy Gjerde, owners of Woodberry Kitchen. Portraits of them in their restaurant with some of the preserves they make. Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record / FILE)

Spike and Amy Gjerde, owners of Woodberry Kitchen. Portraits of them in their restaurant with some of the preserves they make. Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record / FILE)

The pastry cooks, line cooks and bread-bakers also regularly worked more than 50 hours per week but were not paid overtime, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names as defendants restauranteurs Spike and Amy Gjerde and Watershed LLC, the corporate parent of their three restaurants — Woodberry Kitchen, Parts & Labor and Artifact Coffee. A fourth establishment, Shoo-Fly, closed earlier this year but is also named as a defendant.

Messages left with a representative of Watershed and Woodberry Kitchen were not returned.

The named plaintiffs were pastry cooks at Woodberry Kitchen, although they prepared items for the other restaurants and cafes, according to the complaint. They were paid in what was described by management as “shift pay” and were required to stay 10 hours no matter when they started to receive salaries, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges the “shift pay” model allowed the restaurants to evade federal and state wage laws.

“Defendants’ ‘shift pay’ method of pay was concocted for the sole purpose of not paying Plaintiffs and others for overtime,” the complaint states.

The prep cooks routinely worked for 10 straight hours because the defendants’ “strict scheduling practices” allowed only for quick breaks, according to the complaint.

“Defendants made clear to plaintiffs and others that their daily wages would be denied altogether if they worked less,” the complaint states.

Woodberry Kitchen opened in 2007 and has become one of the most critically acclaimed farm-to-table restaurants in the region. Last month, Spike Gjerde, who also serves as chef for his restaurants, won the prestigious James Beard award for “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.” He had been a finalist for the award in 2013 and 2014.

Federal court records show no previous lawsuits filed against the Gjerdes or their company.

The lawsuit alleges prep cooks were given a to-do list each day with specific instructions on what to prepare and in what quantities, a list they could not deviate from. The prep cooks also were responsible for “setting up stations and collecting the necessary supplies to cook,” as well as closing and cleaning the kitchen correctly, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Maryland Wage and Hour Law. The lawsuit does not indicate how many members there could be in the potential class action.

The plaintiffs are represented by Benjamin L. Davis III and James A. Lanier of The Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl in Baltimore. The lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

The case is Giegerich, et al., v. Watershed LLC, et al., 1:15-cv-01728-CCB.