Employee sued vegan Cafe Gratitude over alleged labor violations

News Summary/August 12, 2016

By Rick Alan Ross

The East Bay Express reported that a vegan restaurant in San Francisco that some allege operates like a "cult" is being sued by a former employee for labor law violations.

Sarah Stevens, a former employee of Cafe Gratitude, claimed in San Francisco superior court that was not given proper breaks and was shorted on her tips. The Stevens lawsuit was filed by Kumin Sommers LLP.

Moreover Stevens alleged that she was required to become involved in an unconventional scheme regarding the pooling of tips, which was unfair. Stevens says, after contributing 20% of her gross tips to the "central kitchen" only 80% of the accumulated total was subsequently distributed to staff, which included "shift leaders" and retail employees.

Cafe Gratitude has a troubled history of employee complaints linked to a controversial large group awareness training called Landmark Forum. Reportedly some Cafe Gratitude "employees allege they were forced into [Landmark] by threat of losing their jobs." Cafe Gratitude has grown accustomed to ongoing litigation and has been sued by its napkin supplier and other employees.

Landmark Forum has a history of personal injury lawsuits, labor violations and complaints. Landmark was once called Erhard Seminar Training (EST). EST was the seminar selling company founded by self-help guru Werner Erhard (aka Jack Rosenberg). EST was called a "cult" and one of Erhard's former associates told CBS News that he was "set up a leader to be bigger than anybody else, a god-like figure." The training offered by Landmark has been labeled "brainwashing." 

In response to the Stevens lawsuit Cafe Gratitude told San Francisco Weekly that the tip-pooling scheme was approved by an employee vote and that new employees signed off on the plan. But Stevens demands at least $75,000 in her lawsuit.

Note: This news summary is based upon the report "Cafe Gratitude Sued for Labor-Code Violations" written by Ellen Cushing published by the East Bay Express August 9, 2011.

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