By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Workers at longtime neighborhood favorite Niko's Mediterranean Grill and Bistro are suing the restaurant's owner, claiming they were never paid for overtime work.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, four former employees of Niko's — which closed in early February after 50 years in business — say owner Demitrios N. Imirziades failed to pay them overtime wages when they worked more than 40 hours a week.
Imirziades could not be reached for comment immediately on Tuesday.
The employees should have been paid one-and-a-half times their regular pay rate when they worked more than 40 hours a week, but the lawsuit alleges that Imirziades ignored federal and state overtime laws.
The lawsuit claims Niko's workers were never paid for overtime, and that they were threatened with firing or "interference in their immigration cases" if they didn't go along with the unfair treatment.
All of the employees worked more than 10 years at Niko's as cooks and managers, with one cook working at the Greek restaurant, on Broadway and West 76th Street, from 1996 until it closed in February.
Attorney Lou Pechman, who created the website Waiterpay.com to "promote awareness of wage and labor laws," is representing the Niko's employees. Pechman is known for winning a $3.15 million settlement from Sparks Steakhouse in a tip stealing case.
There are 20 other employees — including line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers — who could join the action against Niko's, according to the lawsuit.
Employees at the restaurant complained to the U.S. Department of Labor about unfair treatment a few years ago, and a judge ordered Imirziades in 2008 to hand over $10,000 in overtime wages.
But according Pechman's lawsuit, Imirziades never followed that order.
When Niko's closed in February, a sign posted on the restaurant's front door said the owners had sold their lease.
"This is a difficult and painful decision, but it is time to cut back," read the sign, which encouraged customers to support Big Nick's Burger and Pizza Joint, a restaurant down the block that's under the same ownership.
Reviews on Yelp praised Niko's for its friendly service and "nice neighborhood place feel."
Pechman declined to comment on the pending lawsuit against Niko's, but said such cases are on the rise, and not just in the food industry.
"It’s not just restaurants," Pechman said in an e-mail. "Employers in every industry must be aware that, with limited exceptions, overtime after 40 hours is a requirement of federal and state law."