Restaurateur accused of stiffing former employees

by Keith Barber

The owner-operator of a Kernersville restaurant could be facing legal action by former employees who have made a number of claims regarding violations of state labor laws, county health regulations and state alcohol laws. At the heart of the allegations leveled against Scott Leard, the chef and owner of Basil’s Trattoria, are the numerous claims that he failed to pay a number of former employees for work they performed and that he wrote bad checks to those employees after they complained about not receiving their wages.

Lauren Campbell, a former employee of Basil’s Trattoria, said Leard still owes her $535 in credit card tips and $170 in back wages. Campbell said she started working for Basil’s on Nov. 10 and was fired on Dec. 13. Lauren said Leard fired her during a heated confrontation that was precipitated by her demands to be paid back wages for work performed. “He fired me in front of everybody and they knew very well why he fired me — because I confronted him about being paid,” Campbell said. “He had all these people dependent on him living in fear.” Leard disputes Campbell’s claims, stating he only owes her $180 in back wages and he will send the money to the Employment Security Commission, which should then give the money to Lauren. “There ain’t no back wages, because of her tips,” Leard said. “She made over $6.50 an hour, so that means she doesn’t get her tips.” Leard claims Campbell was fired for saying something to his 6-year-old son, and for no other reason. Campbell denies Leard’s claim, stating that she merely expressed concern that his son was present in a busy kitchen during a dinner shift at the restaurant. Lori Rucinski, a former Basil’s employee, corroborated Campbell’s version of events. Rucinski said after Campbell expressed concern about Leard’s son running through the restaurant, he fired her in front of a number of other employees. Then, after Campbell demanded payment for back wages, Leard handed her a small amount of cash, which Rucinski said was no more than $60. Campbell took the cash and left the restaurant, Rucinski said. “That’s why he says he doesn’t owe her any more money,” Rucinski added. Rucinski also said she is aware of a paycheck with Campbell’s name on it at Basil’s Trattoria. She said Leard refused to give Campbell her paycheck after he fired her despite Campbell’s repeated requests and visits to the restaurant to obtain the check. Upon her termination, Campbell said she filed a complaint of wrongful termination with the Employment Discrimination Bureau of the NC Department of Labor.

Campbell said she spoke with a bureau representative, who informed her that Leard claimed he only owed Campbell $180 in back wages. Campbell said she was told that if she accepted the $180 settlement, she could not pursue legal action against Leard. Shannon Council, program assistant with the Wage and Hour Bureau, said that three complaints have been filed against Leard and Basil’s Trattoria. Campbell said she filed one of those complaints on Dec. 15. However, in an e-mail message, Council said that as of Monday, Feb. 9, no investigator had been assigned to the case and it could take three months for the case to be resolved and the records made public. Campbell said her interaction with the Wage and Hour Bureau has only left her feeling more frustrated. “They were not helpful,” she said. “I had to argue with them to file a claim. I had to call several times just to get them to listen to me. What’s the Department of Labor even there for? They’re supposed to be there for us, and they wouldn’t even take (my coworker’s) claim.” The NC Department of Labor website clearly states: “An employee may file a wage complaint against a business on behalf of other employees who have the same wage problem.” Campbell said a department representative told her, in contradiction to department policy, that she could not make a claim on behalf of another Basil’s employee. Council said Campbell’s story is credible. “She probably was told that,” she said. A number of former Basil’s employees shared stories similar to Campbell’s about not being paid by Leard, and being strung along for weeks on end. “Every two weeks, there was an excuse why employees didn’t get a paycheck,” Molly McIndoe, a former hostess, said. “(Leard) would say the bank closed his account, the paychecks were stolen, his partner stole $4,000 out of his account, and he had to rip up the paychecks.” Campbell kept a printed record of more than 30 text messages Leard sent her after she was fired. Many of the text messages centered on a Dec. 24 meeting at Basil’s where Leard promised to pay Campbell her tips. Campbell said she waited at Basil’s but Leard never showed for the meeting. McIndoe said Leard owes her $425 in back wages. She and another employee, Kelsey Tull, described the restaurant as a hostile working environment for women. “One time, (Leard) asked how much it would cost to have sex with me and Kelsey,” McIndoe said. Tull also said Leard once told her that as long as she “stayed hot,” she could keep her job. Tull said she worked a total of 71 hours as a hostess, but she was only paid for eight. Campbell’s claim that she started work at the restaurant on Nov. 10 and McIndoe’s claim that she started at Basil’s on Oct. 10 appears to pose a problem for Leard. LynnStone of the Forsyth County Health Department said Basil’s Trattoriawas issued a transitional food service permit on Nov. 17. NC GeneralStatute 130A-248 states: “No establishment shall commence or continueoperation without a permit or transitional permit issued by theDepartment…. A permit shall be issued only when the establishmentsatisfies all of the requirements of the rules.” The penalties fornon-compliance are not outlined in the statute, but Sheryl Emory, foodand lodging program supervisor for Forsyth County Health Department,said that it’s a criminal misdemeanor for a restaurant to operatewithout a license. Leard acknowledged that the restaurant operated without a health department food service license for at least two weeks. Typically,when it is discovered that a restaurant is operating without a foodservice license, health department inspectors will visit the restaurantand order them to close until they come into compliance with state law.If the restaurant owner complies with health department regulations,the health department does not pursue further legal action, Emory said.“We’ve never gone to trial with something after the fact, so I reallydon’t know what would happen,” she added. Alan Fields, district supervisor for North CarolinaAlcohol Law Enforcement, confirmed that Leard has also run afoul of thestate’s ABC laws. Acting on a tip, an ALE agent visited Basil’sTrattoria on Dec. 12 and discovered five bottles of wine and a 12-packof beer. The agent confirmed that Basil’s had been selling alcoholwithout an ABC license. Fields said Leard has since applied for andreceived an ABC permit. Fields said that selling alcohol without an ABClicense is a criminal misdemeanor, but NC ALE is not planning oncharging Leard. “I think technically we could charge him buthe has resolved the issue and is currently in compliance,” Fields said.Leard acknowledged that he served alcohol without an ABC permit. Formeremployees like Amber Reavis said that while the restaurant may havecleared some bureaucratic hurdles, the toll on its labor force shouldnot be forgotten. Reavis said her bank account is currently frozenbecause of a bad check written by Leard last month. Reavis said shestarted working for Basil’s when it opened in late September, and Leardstill owes her $535 in wages and $75 in creditcard tips. After Leard’scheck for $154 bounced, Reavis said she contacted him and he was “veryapologetic.” Leard told her to come to the restaurant and he would giveher cash. It was two weeks before Leard actually met with Reavis. Atthe time, Reavis said he gave her an envelope with $100 in cash. Reavissaid she never filled out any tax forms to ensure she was paying incometax on her wages. Campbell said she has consulted with a localattorney in her effort to recoup back wages she claims Leard owes her.Campbell said she and some of her former colleagues are determined tosucceed in getting the money they are owed. Since Basil’s Trattoriaremains in operation, she knows money is flowing into the business, butwonders why Leard cannot pay his former employees for their efforts tohelp build his business. “Where is all the money going?” she asked.