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See? She thought I was a lawyer.
March 21, 2011 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Over the years, he's become so well versed in restaurant labor law that his attorneys don't even charge him for filing lawsuits anymore. 'They take them on spec,' he boasts. 'By now, they know that if I file something, it's legit.' Eddie Santana, restaurant rebel, has filed 30 lawsuits against companies — nearly all restaurants and bars — for everything from illegal tip pools to excessive uniform costs. He's netted $144,924.79 after attorney fees from 20 separate settlements. And from the nine suits still pending, he hopes to make another $100,000, if not more.
posted by shakespeherian (49 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
According to the article, he's earned $144,924.79 from 20 seperate suits in 9 years...or $16,102.75 per year, not even $1400 a month. Plus a 10month jail stint. Seems a little low for a good waiter in Miami.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:56 AM on March 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Who would hire this guy? Oh yeah, if you don't, he'll sue you.
posted by fatllama at 7:01 AM on March 21, 2011


This strikes me as sad. The guy could be pushing for equitable treatment and pay for all waitstaff, but instead he's sport-suing his employers for personal gain. That seems just as bad or worse than the treatment he's received from the string of restaurants that have had the misfortune of hiring him.
posted by Maaik at 7:07 AM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


To fellow waiters, Eddie is an unlikely if not unlikable hero who calls out Miami restaurants on the hundreds of ways they steal from employees.

Well clearly I'm not a waiter because he sounds like a tool.

He'd be a hero if he was actually trying to be some kind of consumer advocate but he's just a vindictive, self-absorbed fuckwit. And he's one of the assholes who's going to make it easier for politicians to make legitimate lawsuits against negligent companies illegal by being a poster child for nuisance suits.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:08 AM on March 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


"That's what these restaurants do: They break the law," he adds. "So you can always find something to catch them on."

Too long in coming. I hope this catches on and spreads to other parts of the country - food service management has a very, very bad rep for ripping off their workers. Labor laws exist for a reason, and those who break them need to be held to account.

Even if it's just a maniacal pit-bull with easy money in his eyes - if you follow the spirit and letter of the law, he'll just wither away. If you don't, you deserve the headache he brings.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:10 AM on March 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


Now, if he was suing politicians for breaking the law instead of small business owners, I could get behind him...

I'll just file the nimrod away in the greedy drawer and move on...
posted by tomswift at 7:12 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Profiting from the brokenness of the restaurant industry is not the same as fixing it.
posted by jefficator at 7:13 AM on March 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


Also adding: ultimately kind of feel sorry for his guy and how his story's going to end. It looks like the best case for him is ending up in jail, because he's clearly already alienated everyone close to him and practically eliminated his chances of ever working again. "Owning his own restaurant?" Seriously? because a single bank on the planet's going to give a convicted drug felon a small business loan? Good luck there champ. The odds are more likely, given his predilection for instigating fights with what he sees as corrupt restaurant owners, he's going to start screaming at one who's just going to take him out back away from the security cameras and break his legs.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:18 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


How greedy. The money belongs to the good, just, reasonable and saintly restaurateurs.
posted by Goofyy at 7:19 AM on March 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


Litigation is not supposed to be a career path for anyone but lawyers, and even they make their living of other people's litigation, not by drumming up lawsuits where they act as plaintiffs.

This guy is just a douchebag.
posted by valkyryn at 7:23 AM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


If he could clean up his act (this article paints him in a bad rebel-light and even his girlfriend appears afraid of him), he might be able to carve a niche as a restaurant legal-trap consultant. Anyone buying or getting into the business could have him check out the restaurant/bar they've bought, and tip them off to managerial practices that aren't kosher. Like an undercover Ramsey on the wait-staff. Sadly, with him picking fights and all, it seems a bit late for that idea.
posted by dabitch at 7:25 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if he could make more as an independent investigator of these kinds of abuses. Waiter pay, plus a bonus for problems uncovered. Then, apparently, he could write up the litigation for the aggrieved. He's already got the narrative hooks for a 'gritty' 2D pulp detective. Maybe they could make a show about it.
posted by LD Feral at 7:27 AM on March 21, 2011


Aw, preview! Got me again.
posted by LD Feral at 7:28 AM on March 21, 2011


without unions workers must rely on lawyers for justice, this is the main reason why republicans are anti-union/trial lawyer they want the working man left with no protection under the law.

Those who are pro union need to make corporations understand that people like Eddie are going to multiply and end up costing them 10x what a union will cost them in the future. In fact, the union movement should just morph into a stealth worker movement whereby agents are sent to work at companies specifically to uncover illegal business practices and bring them to court. If you want corporations to allow unions back you have to show them the alternative is going to be much more painful.
posted by any major dude at 7:34 AM on March 21, 2011 [28 favorites]


How greedy. The money belongs to the good, just, reasonable and saintly restaurateurs.

Actually, the money should be going to cheated, overworked and exploited waitstaff across the board. This guy isn't fighting for any kind of cause apart from making a pariah of himself and being awarded money from litigation. Once he's in jail or run the hell out of town, the restaurateurs you're deriding (and who no one here, you'll notice, is defending) will carry on business as usual. Nothing's being learned or changed here.
posted by Maaik at 7:43 AM on March 21, 2011


Well, at least one of his suits was a class action, so I assume some of the money did go to cheated waitstaff. Anyway, this makes me think of the guy who was charging up debts and then going after people on collections practices and winning a lot. These people are essentially like bounty hunters. I don't really see a problem with it, honestly.
posted by Nothing at 7:49 AM on March 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Over the last few years here on the blue, having read people defending the banks ("what they did, technically, wasn't fraud!"), I've stopped having any issue with an individual following the law for personal gain no matter if it is in poor taste or not. As others have pointed out above, the restaurant industry is notorious for bilking their workers and what little I have personally seen backs that sentiment up.

Anyone getting all riled up in this thread over this guy... I think maybe your priorities are a little off.
posted by mbatch at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't really see a problem with it, honestly.

Nobody else is even trying to keep them honest, so I don't get what the big deal is here.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


After I read this, it was clear to me that this guy has a future as a US Congressman. He's woven of the same cloth.
posted by scblackman at 7:54 AM on March 21, 2011


I thought he WAS a US Congressman.
posted by nevercalm at 7:57 AM on March 21, 2011


I've stopped having any issue with an individual following the law for personal gain

If you read the article, there appears to be some question whether this guy is "following the law," or (at least in some cases) allegedly lying to scam restaurants into paying him "settlements." Take the article's opening incident: Santana claims he was trying to collect $60 he was owed for training as a waiter, but the owner claims, "I never hired him." Another restaurant's manager claims Santana lied about having his shoulder dislocated.

The article claims twice that "fellow waiters" feel some support for Santana, but unless I missed a quote, the only supportive voice in the article comes from someone who is identified as Santana's high-school buddy who was present when Santana was arrested for theft in 1994 and who joined in one of Santana's lawsuits against a restaurant in 2006. And even that guy, the article says, "thinks Eddie has now gone too far."

Even his girlfriend doesn't seem particularly supportive of what he's doing. ("'Eddie, let's just go,' Dawn says quietly, tugging at his arm.") It's hard to tell much from stories like this beyond the facts given, so I look at what facts appear in the article. I find it telling that the reporter apparently wanted to paint the "Is Santana a hero or villain?" question but didn't give any compelling examples of people on the ground who think Santana is a hero.

I also think it's interesting that, beyond Santana's own generalized assertion that "[t]he restaurant industry here in Miami" makes waiters pay for tools like bottle openers and aprons, the article is pretty light on specific details of abusive practices by defendant-restaurants. It's like that FPP from a few months back about the restaurant owner who "outed" a restaurant critic because she had supposedly treated other restaurants unfairly, without specifying what she had done that was unfair. Substantive allegations carry more weight than generalized criticism.
posted by cribcage at 8:22 AM on March 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


The ecological balance of a complexly organized and regulated industry demands garbage collectors like this guy. His very virulence ensures his efficiency at performing his niche task.

And once again it is shown that it takes all kinds...
posted by tspae at 8:24 AM on March 21, 2011


All these regulations were passed to correct obvious abuses. I'd imagine they usually present well thought out regulations, albeit much less strict than those applied in Europe. All such regulations inevitably suffer from negligible enforcement however, well nobody wants no knock IRS raids over tipping pools. If one guy's hobby of bringing down the worst of the worse restaurateurs earns him an extra $16k per year, well that's just dandy and I wish him well.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:25 AM on March 21, 2011


Reminds me of the excellent TAL episode "The Squeaky Wheelchair Gets The Grease", about disabled Americans in California who sue businesses for violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This is what you get when there is no oversight, no governing body, and you allow the free market to take care of everything: in the case of the ADA (and, I assume, in the restaurant employee business), there is no enforcement authority for the statutes; it is designed to be enforced solely through litigation.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:26 AM on March 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


>> I've stopped having any issue with an individual following the law for personal gain

> If you read the article, there appears to be some question whether this guy is "following the law,"


Fair enough - I'm at work and could not read the whole thing; I only skimmed it. I assumed not everything he did was completely above the board, regardless, so let me rephrase:

I've stopped having any issue with an individual partially following the law and, perhaps, partially perpetrating non-violent crimes that don't get in my way, for personal gain and the potential betterment of the lives of others, at the expense of business.

It is unfortunate that some of these businesses are probably small businesses.. but that doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to them breaking the law, which I guarantee you they do a whole heck of a lot more than this guy.
posted by mbatch at 8:31 AM on March 21, 2011


If one guy's hobby of bringing down the worst of the worse restaurateurs earns him an extra $16k per year, well that's just dandy and I wish him well.

Thing is, in the article, I see no evidence that these are the worst of the worst employers egregiously breaking violations. We have this guy's claims and his string of victories as evidence that wrongs are being avenged (not righted, mind you). On the other hand, we have stories of Santana completely losing his shit and trying to provoke employers (or not) into physical confrontations.

I am in complete agreement that restaurants need to be regulated on how they treat their employees and that a lack of that oversight has opened a window for this guy. What I'm saying is that waitstaff deserve a better advocate and it sucks that all they've got right now is this jerk who is basically profiting off of slipping in people's driveways. Hopefully he'll inspire someone to do what he's doing on a longer-range, systemic level.
posted by Maaik at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2011


I'm nominating this for worst line in a long-form article for 2011:

Like a cartel kingpin, Eddie Santana sits at his living room table surrounded by snow-white stacks. But instead of snorting lines of coke, Eddie is carefully sorting piles of legal documents. His small, neat Kendall apartment is a sea of lawsuits, arrest records, and affidavits.

Like a cartel kingpin, I too work with papers. I'm the freaking Pablo Escobar of office documents.
posted by fremen at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


I, too, thought that line was the worst thing ever written.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:52 AM on March 21, 2011


This strikes me as a really sad way to live--spending all your time hoping someone will screw you over so you can screw them right back. It's an unfortunate way to seek empowerment. I hope his girlfriend wises up sooner rather than later.
posted by Kimberly at 8:53 AM on March 21, 2011


Perhaps also a nomination for "line most contradicted by a photo directly below it":

It's 8 p.m. — four hours until his 39th birthday — but Eddie Santana still looks like a doe-eyed Miami Dade College student.
posted by mikepop at 8:53 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm the freaking Pablo Escobar of office documents.
posted by Maaik at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


He does seem to be utilizing a rather Phelpsian methodology.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:31 AM on March 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


The article certainly reads more as being about someone who has gotten addicted to the thrill of winning lawsuits and is looking for every way possible to find ways to extend that thrill into his life on a regular basis, than it does about someone who is some kind of legal vigilante going out to try to correct the wrongs in Miami's service industry.

I'm surprised that every establishment in the entire area doesn't have his photo up on manager's office walls like I've seen posted photos and such of people passing bad checks.

Toward the end of the piece, it becomes clear that he's managed to informally blacklist himself to the point where he's deliberately trying to provoke business owners into something, ANYTHING, which will let him smoke that sweet sweet crack rock of litigation once again.

I applaud the outward appearance of what he's doing, but the closer look has me thinking that this is not a case of a man out for justice for an industry. He's out for his own personal thrills, and if it puts a bit of money in his pocket along the way, he's okay with that too.
posted by hippybear at 9:39 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy is straight out of a Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard book.
posted by dersins at 9:41 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also... Eddie studied hospitality management at Miami Dade College but dropped out during his second year. Instead, he began working in restaurants. The late hours and cash tips suited his lifestyle. He graduated from KFC to Chili's, where he was promoted from busboy to server and then to bartender.

WTF kind of KFC was he working for which has "late hours and cash tips"?
posted by hippybear at 9:42 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, this guy sounds like a scam artist. My dad was a probation officer, and the stories he had about all the schemes and machinations and cons and just the staggering amount of work that people would go to in order to basically, well.. avoid working sounds exactly like this guy. With half the effort (at an actual job), he could probably make twice the money he's making now from his settlements, and with a lot less risk.

But.. but.. I spent 15 years in the restaurant business, and have seen restaurant owners and managers do some very shady and certainly illegal things in order to screw their employees out of their wages. Everything this guy says has happened to him, and much much more, I've seen with my own eyes. Not all restaurant owners are unscrupulous thieves, but the ones who are seem to far outweigh the ones who aren't. So, when I see someone making a restaurant owner or chain pay for illegal behavior, I just can't help but root for the guy, even if it looks like he's only doing it for his own benefit. And maybe this will make the ones who are cheating their employees just a little bit more cautious in the future, knowing that their next hire could be a more altruistic version of this guy.
posted by ralan at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


WTF kind of KFC was he working for which has "late hours and cash tips"?

I think you might have been a victim of shoddy writing. The "late hours" sentence probably be the last.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:02 AM on March 21, 2011


You know what I don't understand? How restaurant workers are allowed to be paid less than minimum wage. When I was in college, waitstaff made $2.01 an hour...and minimum wage was somewhere near $5ish an hour (I think).

I mean, yeah, I made a lot more than minimum wage, because of tips...but why should customers have to pay my salary? Shouldn't tips, instead of being (an unwritten, but practically mandatory) 20% tacked on to the bill, be what they were intended to be, a small "thank you for great service" that customers feel happy to leave?

See, here's the thing; working for tips feels like begging...like our work as servers or bartenders or whatever, isn't important enough to be a paid job...we have to beg the people we serve to remunerate us. That's just wrong. Servers should be paid no differently than retail workers or postal workers or anyone else who shows up at a job and does that job.

I fail to see how receiving tips for a service well rendered should then make that worker ineligible for the federal mandated minimum wages.

Do bellboys get minimum wage or better? What about valets, or doorman or porters or delivery guys who bring your furniture in and set it up for you....cause all those folks get tipped too.

Why is it that restaurant workers catch the sharp end of this stick, and why is it still a legal employment practice? Anyone know?
posted by dejah420 at 10:08 AM on March 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


dejah420, I hear you. To add insult to injury, back when I was waitressing in Canada they started requiring you to report your tips as income, which is fair, but they also set a minimum percentage that they assumed you made (to prevent servers simply declaring no tips). I worked for a few years at a tiny joint where for most days of the week and months of the year, tips were negligible; not only did I not make the equivalent of non-tip minimum wage in the off-season, but I got taxed on more income than I was making. Grumble.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:18 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


dejah420: It varies from state to state, and even from restaurant to restaurant. Here in WA, restaurant workers have to be paid the minimum wage (currently $8.67 in WA), and I'm not sure how tips are split amongst the workers. (In restaurants which rely on tips to make up wages, non-tipped positions such as the kitchen staff, those positions must be paid full minimum wage and are not allowed to be cut in on the tip pool.)

Now, this means that eating out here in WA costs 10-15% more than it does in states where restaurant owners are allowed to use tips to make up wages. But it also means that the workers likely have something that approaches a living wage before I put my gratuity on the table, so I'm okay with the extra expense on those rare occasions when we eat out.
posted by hippybear at 10:20 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Profiting from the brokenness of the restaurant industry is not the same as fixing it.

Oh yeah? Not fixing the restaurant industry is not the same as not helping.

Take the article's opening incident: Santana claims he was trying to collect $60 he was owed for training as a waiter, but the owner claims, "I never hired him."

Lots of places have required training periods. You still get paid for them even if they decide not to hire you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:24 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Was I the only reader who was reminded of this guy?
posted by bukvich at 11:02 AM on March 21, 2011


My girlfriend is a waitress at an upscale restaurant here in LA...and I'm constantly in awe of their shady business practices. I'm always joking that she should litigate, but she doesn't seem to think there's any issue because this is all she has known.

Reading this article I don't feel sorry for the restaurants that this guy has sued. Unfair labor practices deserve the sword. Unfortunately, the guy is an absolute prick. It would be commendable if he could turn these into class-action suits that might benefit the industry as a whole. Barring that, if we had a few more self-interested pricks like this guy, there might be some real change. He is simply a callous individual behaving as a callous company might.
posted by jnnla at 11:36 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Single Page Version. Thanks for the post.
posted by colt45 at 1:00 PM on March 21, 2011


I mean, yeah, I made a lot more than minimum wage, because of tips...but why should customers have to pay my salary?

Because they're the only people who ever do.
posted by Etrigan at 1:26 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy's an extremely bad figurehead for hte struggle to end the abuse of food service workers. An earlier story posted here on MetaFilter about Seattle Solidarity shows how to actually get results against these sharp practices, and I hope to be taking part in similar tactics in Boston this summer. From what I understand, if you complain to the department of labor in Florida, they will just about take your complaint and throw it into the wastebasker right in front of you, so I'm not ready to bash this guy, but I hope Floridians might get a better effort going.
posted by ocschwar at 7:08 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"WAITER! There's a fly in my soup."

He may have been right suing, but from the tone of the story, Eddie has personal issues. His father assaulted his mother? hmm. I take he never had a chat with dad about that. Nor filed assault charges against him.

Poorly written article about someone clearly fucked up, looks like it's downhill for him, too selfish with a dollop of narcism. Hopefuly his girlfriend or fiance or whatever her relationship is at this minute bails from the faux lawyer, the ambulance chaser.

He could be using his knowledge positively, but I don't see that happening. Even the police aren't on the side of mr. put upon. He's getting paid to go away. The sums he's winning, I'm assuming, aren't deterrents to make all these businesses fly right at all.
posted by alicesshoe at 7:10 PM on March 21, 2011


My late mother was among other things a union organizer. As an organizer, she got paid an hourly wage matching whatever was minimum wage on top of the job's wage. So it was two pay checks. She waitressed and actually was really good at it. She did some fairly outrageous things in the time she did this. Trouble with working that type of job is people in this work are very mobile. It is hard to organize people who mayove on in a month, a week or the next day.
This is why factory workers were easier to organize than say farm workers. The worker has to be a tiny bit less expedible. This is why factory work going away has been so bad. Even agricultural work is more stable than restaraunt work. Which is why there is a farm workers union, but no restaraunt workers union.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:24 PM on March 21, 2011


Which is why there is a farm workers union, but no restaraunt workers union.

May I introduce you to UNITE HERE?
posted by hippybear at 10:33 PM on March 21, 2011


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