Former Oheka Castle bartender files suit against Gary Melius
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A former bartender and server at Oheka Castle in Huntington is suing owner Gary Melius, alleging that he cheated workers out of overtime pay and tips.
Michael Ernano, who worked in Oheka's catering and restaurant operations from November 2010 to December 2011, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on Thursday. The suit also names the businesses comprising Oheka's operations and their managers.
The suit comes amid increased scrutiny of the business deals of the politically influential Melius, who is recuperating from being shot by a masked gunman on Feb. 24 in the valet parking lot of the sprawling castle, where he also lives.
The complaint doesn't specify a dollar amount, but Ernano's lawyer, Manhattan attorney Christopher Marlborough, said his client is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that the defendants underpaid workers despite Oheka Castle revenues that in 2011 totaled $3.6 million from lavish catered events and weddings.
"Despite earning millions from the labor of their servants, behind the castle walls, defendants intentionally violated the federal [labor laws] and . . . New York State labor law," the suit says.
A lawyer who represents the castle said the suit amounted to opportunism.
"The fact that we have not been served with these papers but have been made aware of them through the media suggests that this has little do with a legitimate labor dispute and everything to do with an individual seeking to profit from the recent events at Oheka Castle," said Garden City attorney Ronald J. Rosenberg.
The lawsuit charges that the businesses cheated workers out of overtime by shifting overtime hours over to the next pay period, or by making workers nearing 40 hours clock out but continue working. Labor laws require employers to pay hourly employees for all the time they work, and overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week.
The suit also alleges that Melius "personally confiscated cash tips left by castle patrons" for workers at the castle. The businesses also charged patrons as much as a 22 percent service charge, the suit said, but failed to let them know the money didn't go to the staff.