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Lexington, KY restaurant operator accused of bashing wage regulation

Bar and dining room at Tony’s in Lexington, Ky., Friday, February 19, 2016.

Bar and eating space at Tony’s in Lexington, Ky., Friday, February 19, 2016.

2016 file picture

The owner of a popular downtown steak restaurant in Lexington bashed Kentucky wage laws, telling his employees he thought the law was “stupid” in a meeting that he held with employees after he was sued over wage theft, according to another lawsuit filed against him for allegedly violating wage laws.

Bartenders of the restaurant allege the owner of Tony’s Steak & Seafood, Tony Ricci, has violated the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Kentucky Wages and Hours Act by paying employees a tipped hourly wage less than the minimum wage and relied on “tip credit” to satisfy their statutory minimum wage obligations.

A class action lawsuit was filed over the issue in Kentucky state court in Fayette County on behalf of bartenders Tuesday. Ricci’s comments were transcribed and filed into court records after an employee allegedly recorded the remarks.

The meeting took place at Ricci’s restaurant in Indianapolis, according to the lawsuit. Ricci notified employees of the class-action lawsuit filed against his business in Kentucky, which he has since settled for more than $1 million, according to an attorney who represented servers. In the transcript, Ricci is quoted saying the Kentucky laws are “stupid,” and says that there are “inbreds” in Western Kentucky.

Ricci’s attorney, Vince Antaki of Reminger Law firm, said Tuesday he was not available to comment.

“It’s f—– up. I would not — no wonder there’s a whole bunch of inbreds going on in the western side of that state,” the transcript, which features frequent profanity and critical comments, reads.

A plaintiff in the lawsuit recorded the meeting, which took place on April 4, 2022, and reported it to their attorney, according to the lawsuit.

During this meeting, Ricci said he knew state law prohibited employers from mandating the division of employees’ tips, and “repeatedly demonstrated a particular disregard and disdain for the requirements of (state law),” according to the transcript that was filed in the lawsuit.

“I just told them, I said, ‘If s— doesn’t change, I don’t know if I want to work in this state because it’s f—— stupid for me — and I don’t want to go there collecting, you know — I don’t want you in my pocket,” Ricci is alleged to have said in the meeting, according to the lawsuit.

In the same meeting, Ricci is alleged to have said there was a policy and practice of sharing bartenders’ earned tips with management at all of the Tony’s restaurants, including the maitre d’. In the meeting, he announced he would begin a new policy of deducting the employees’ tips to pay credit card processing fees after facing the lawsuit.

Ricci also made references to carrying guns as he told employees he was trying to get attorneys to tell him who the “server” is at a restaurant. Ricci said several people are involved in serving a table, including food runners, bartenders and servers’ assistants.

“So me being Italian — okay? — having uzis at my side, f—— shotguns in my trunk, and everything else, I asked a f—– question,” Ricci said.

Ricci said the attorneys couldn’t answer the question, according to the transcript filed in the lawsuit.

Emily Rice filed the lawsuit and alleges in the complaint that Tony’s required her and other bartenders to contribute some of the tips to other employees, and rather than that being voluntary, it was a condition of the employment at the restaurant.

According to the lawsuit, Ricci’s response to the complaints about the tip sharing was to “discourage employees from challenging the practice.”

A settlement was recently agreed upon in a similar lawsuit filed in federal courts on behalf of Tony’s servers in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. The string of restaurants agreed to pay $1.5 million.

Taylor Six is the felony justice reporter at the Herald-Chief. She was born and raised in Lexington attending Lafayette Large University. She graduated from Jap Kentucky College in 2018 with a degree in journalism. She beforehand labored as the federal government reporter for the Richmond Sign up.