ATLANTA — Atlanta restaurateur Aisha “Pinky” Cole took to Instagram to deny claims made against her in a lawsuit filed by a former employee. The employee claims Cole took portions of employees’ tips and failed to pay them minimum wage.
Cole said against the advice of her lawyer; she felt she had to respond to the claims after her segment with the "Today" show was canceled. Cole believes the segment was canceled due to the lawsuit filed against her.
Morgan Georgia, the former employee filing the lawsuit, said she worked for Cole at Bar Vegan in Atlanta's Ponce City Market for over two years. Georgia is also suing Cole’s two co-owners, Aaron Mattison and Jason Crane, and the business itself.
In her Instagram post, Cole said she “was not familiar with this ordeal or the employee, because [she doesn’t] run day-to-day operations at Bar Vegan.”
Georgia accused the three owners, which includes Cole, of demanding 25% of the employee’s tips. Georgia said she was also paid below minimum wage.
Typically, servers are only paid $2.13 per hour by restaurant owners. The owners can legally pay this amount if they let their servers keep 100% of their tips and if the tips make up the difference of $5.12 an hour.
However, if the business is taking a server’s tips, the business is legally required to pay them $7.25 per hour.
Georgia claims she wasn’t paid minimum wage, and a quarter of her tips were being taken every night. So, the business could have violated the Fair Labor and Standards Act, according to Atlanta attorney Ed Buckley.
What Georgia claims in her lawsuit is different from tipping out. This practice, which is legal in Georgia, may require that a server share a portion of their tips with restaurant workers.
The 25% that Georgia claims were taken from her did not go to other employees. According to the lawsuit, Georgia claims the money went straight to the defendants, which would also violate the FLSA.
In addition to denying the claims in court, Cole also expressed on Instagram that she has “only operated with integrity" and "[doesn't] play with people's money.”
Cole is a popular Atlanta restaurant owner known for her "Slutty Vegan" brand, which has expanded into several successful business ventures.