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• Da Vittorio on Giralda Avenue in the Gables: Former server Valter Machado sued the restaurant in October 2009 for tip skimming, unpaid wages, and "illegal tip deductions." Court documents show he settled for $2,450 plus $9,992 in attorney's fees this past May.
• Sushi Samba on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach: Former servers Dean Mitchell and Yasuko Mitchell sued the sushi joint in November 2008 for unpaid wages and tip skimming. A Miami-Dade court initially awarded them nearly $55,000, but that award was vacated after the couple settled out of court in February for an unknown amount.
"Miami is the worst city in the U.S. when it comes to wage theft," McGuinness says. "So many employers here think that they can just get away with not paying their employees."
The DeVito lawsuits, one filed in July 2009 and the other this past August, involve the most plaintiffs and the most detailed claims. New Times interviewed three of the servers, including Suarez, who have left the Ocean Drive restaurant. All three describe a similar system by which they claim to have been fleeced.
"They were taking $20 or $40 out of our tips every day," says a 29-year-old waiter who worked at DeVito for more than a year. "They absolutely knew what they were doing." He says the house illegally took 1.5 percent of all tips to help pay hostesses and other employees who should have been paid entirely by DeVito.
Some of the tips went to a sommelier who was already making a manager's salary of $70,000 per year, Suarez says. The sommelier even got a cut on nights when he wasn't working, she claims. And the restaurant often kept tip money.
The eatery also charged servers a "tip deduction" that would show up on reports printed out at the end of each shift, according to the lawsuits. This sent a portion of credit card tips to the house. Another plaintiff, a waiter who's married and in his early 30s, estimates the fee totaled $73,000 for all employees over the course of a year.
Manero, DeVito's co-owner, says he has "no knowledge" of any such tip fees or tip sharing.
The waiters' biggest gripe, however, is that the restaurant routinely undercounted their hours on paychecks, which cost them each thousands. "They think that the servers are making good money, so they can take our money like it's no big deal," says one of the allegedly shafted waiters. "But I'm married. I've got two kids. I turn 30 next month. This is my profession. These dirtbags can't just take a huge percentage of my wages every day. It adds up.
"We complained all the time. They just told us to quit."
DeVito this past spring paid the 11 former employees to shut up and drop the suits. One plaintiff says the restaurant gave him $6,000. All in all, he estimates DeVito has paid out $140,000 so far. "It wasn't worth it to go on [with the lawsuit]," he says.
But for Suarez, cash can't compensate. "They don't have enough money to make me drop the lawsuit," she says of DeVito. "I worked for them for three years, but when they fired me, the manager wouldn't even look in my face."