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Trump SoHo Hotel Stiffed Caterers Out of Tips, Lawsuit Charges

 Celebrities and VIPs frequent the Drumpf SoHo Hotel on Spring Street in Hudson Square.
Celebrities and VIPs frequent the Drumpf SoHo Hotel on Spring Street in Hudson Square.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

SOHO — Donald Trump's luxury hotel illegally stiffed its catering staff out of tips by keeping a mandatory 22-percent service fee it added to customers' bills, a new lawsuit charges.

Catering staffer Deborah Garcia is suing Trump, his daughter, Ivanka, and his son Donald Trump Jr., claiming the service fee never reached her or other employees' pockets, even though most customers likely assumed it was for gratuity.

"A reasonable customer would believe that the service was in fact a gratuity for [Garcia] and similarly situated employees," says the lawsuit, which was filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court on Feb. 13, 2015.

Instead, the hotel, run by the Republican presidential front-runner's real estate firm, the Trump Organization, "retained the money for their own benefit" — a violation of state labor law, the lawsuit says.

Under New York law, employers are not allowed to retain any portion of an employee's gratuity or a charge "purported to be a gratuity."

A business must also clearly indicate in 12-point font on a menu and a bill when a service charge connected to a banquet or special function is not a tip or gratuity, according to state regulations. 

Garcia, who lives in Suffolk County, said in the lawsuit that Trump SoHo didn't disclose on invoices, menus or bills that the service charge wasn't for tips.

She worked at Trump SoHo in 2013 as part of a catering team of more 40 employees who handled weddings, birthdays and other celebrations at the hotel, according to the lawsuit. She said she earned $15 an hour but didn't receive tips.

The lawsuit claims that, from February 2009 to at least the time the lawsuit was filed, Trump SoHo applied the service charge to catering bills.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office brought a similar complaint against the Michelin-starred restaurant Per Se in 2012. In that case, Per Se kept a 20-percent service fee it charged customers for private-dining events and banquets.

Schneiderman's office reached a settlement with the restaurant in which it agreed to pay $500,000 to its workers.

The state attorney general's office is currently suing Donald Trump's for-profit school Trump University, accusing it of fraud and cheating thousands of students out of money.

Schneiderman's office declined to comment on the Trump SoHo lawsuit.

Trump SoHo said in a statement that Garcia did not work directly for the hotel.

"The lawsuit filed in 2015, is entirely a reflection of the responsibility of the third-party contractor," the hotel said in a statement. "The plaintiff has never been a staff member of the Trump Soho Hotel. She was contracted by a third party but was never directly employed by Trump Soho Hotel."

Garcia is also suing the Sapir Organization and the Bayrock Group LLC, the developers who owned the hotel until they lost it to foreclosure in 2014.

A lawyer for the developers did not immediately respond to comment.

The heads of Koi SoHo, a high-end sushi restaurant at the hotel, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. A Koi spokeswoman said that the restaurant never employed Garcia.

Brett R. Cohen, a lawyer representing Garcia, declined to comment.

His firm states in Garcia's complaint that it would like the lawsuit to receive class-action status so other aggrieved employees could join in the case.

The case is currently in the discovery phase, and the parties are due in court again on Sept. 1.