Upper West Side pizza restaurant ordered to pay $2 million for labor law violations

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Danielle Leigh investigates an Upper West Side pizza joint that allegedly underpays its employees.

A popular pizza spot on the Upper West Side has been ordered to pay more than $2 million for violating employees' rights to overtime and a minimum wage following a November 3 federal jury verdict in the Southern District of New York.

The verdict resulted from a lawsuit filed by six employees in September 2016, alleging the owners of Big Nick's Burger Joint and Pizza Joint Too on West 71st Street had forced employees to work, at times, six days and more than 80 hours a week without overtime pay.

The complaint alleged employees were paid a flat salary that at times equaled just $5.83 an hour, well under the city's minimum wage.

The verdict awards employees back pay, damages and attorney's fees.

"I work a lot of hours, and then, he no pay me," said one of the former employees behind the lawsuit, who asked to remain anonymous. "He say, 'Oh, you have to work, I'm the boss.'"

The former employee was describing Nikolaos Galanopoulos, who's listed as the chief executive officer on the diner's state business license and is also the son of the owner, Dimitrios Galanopoulos.

"When you have a family, you have to do it," the former employee said. "You need for the rent. You need for everything."

Complaints about bad behavior are unfortunately common among business owners.

Searches by 7 On Your Side Investigates for case filings in the Southern District of New York through October 2017 uncovered 519 cases alleging labor standards violations. On average, that is one to two labor standards complaints filed a day in the Southern District of New York alone.

Additionally, the New York State Department of Labor obtained more than $26.4 million in unpaid wages for nearly 23,600 workers in 2016.

Government officials and attorneys speculate the violations they are made aware of represent a small fraction of the violations actually taking place.

"They think they're smarter than everyone else," said Colin Mulholland, attorney at Michael Faillace & Associates. "They think that they can, you know, still get away with it."

Mulholland represented the plaintiffs in the Big Nick's lawsuit and devotes his practice to protecting individuals harmed by workplace and labor violations. He said the Big Nick's verdict should serve as a warning to other restaurant owners.

"Two million is pretty high," he said. "This is one of the highest verdicts that I'm aware of for a case of this kind. Unless they think they can absorb a verdict of over a million dollars, the liability that they have is gigantic."

Big Nick's owners declined comment on the judgement against them.

"Look, we really don't have a comment to say right now, thank you," Nikolaos Galanopoulos said.

The employee who spoke to 7 On Your Side about his experience at Big Nick's said he quit his job after his bosses repeatedly pressured him not to sue.

"Every day, he coming every day," he said. "He pressure me to sign the papers."

The employee said he spoke for all of the plaintiffs in calling this ruling vindication.

"So no more pressure," he said. "When my lawyer say, 'I win,' oh, I was so happy. These guys too, they're happy for another chapter."

7 On Your Side Investigates found three other cases in the last three years against the Galanopoulos' in the Southern District of New York, which ended in settlements.

Whether the employees behind this latest lawsuit will ever see the money they are owed is yet to be seen. Big Nick's could file for bankruptcy or appeal the ruling.

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