Red Rooster’s Marcus Samuelsson Sued for Racial Discrimination

The chef is also being sued for wage theft

Samuellson pictured with Robin Roberts and Michelle Obama on Good Morning America.

Ethiopia-born chef Marcus Samuelsson, who owns Red Rooster restaurant in New York City, is being sued for racial discrimination and wage theft. According to a lawsuit obtained by Eater, former bartender Campus Johnson claimed that there is “a plain aversion to black bartenders” and that management “routinely” stole employee tips.

Johnson, who worked at Red Rooster for about four years, is claiming that on most occasions, he was the only male black bartender out of 10 bar staffers, which is “conspicuous” because of Samuelsson’s “outspokenness” on the challenges black people face in the restaurant industry, and Red Rooster’s location in Harlem — a predominantly African-American community.

The suit notes that while there were female African-American bartenders at Red Rooster, they “were in the clear minority.”

The former bartender is claiming he was fired on March 8, two days after being approved for a two-month leave to care for his ailing mother, who has leukemia. According to the lawsuit, Johnson was officially terminated because he didn’t use a jigger to measure liquor while making drinks, but the lawsuit alleges “it is clear that [Johnson] was terminated on the basis of his race and his protected request to care for his sick mother.”

The lawsuit also alleges that payroll deducted half an hour from Johnson’s pay each shift, although he was “hardly ever afforded a meal break during his workday.” The plaintiff claims that he occasionally worked over 40 hours, but was deprived of overtime pay.

He is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

Samuelsson is a Top Chef and Chopped alum who worked as guest chef for the first state dinner of the Barack Obama presidency and operates 13 restaurants in the U.S. and abroad. The plaintiff is being represented by Maimon Kirschenbaum, who also represents four former employees of New York City's Mission Chinese who claim the restaurant is a “hotbed of racial discrimination.”

Samuelsson’s attorney told Eater that “the claims of discrimination are baseless and quite frankly, ridiculous,” noting that the restaurant group is minority-owned and staffed primarily by African American men and women.

The Daily Meal has reached out to Kirschenbaum’s law office for comment.