Civil Rights Charge Filed & Protest Held Against Applebee’s in South Bronx Highlights How New York’s Subminimum Wage Leads to Racial Discrimination 

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR: Thursday, April 6, 2023 – 12:00pm ET
CONTACT: Madison Donzis |

New York City Applebee’s Franchise Owner Pays Manhattan Servers Significantly More Than Majority Black Staff in South Bronx Location 

New Report Exposes 25% Decline in Women of Color Tipped Restaurant Workers’ Wages During Repeated Minimum Wage Wage Increases for Other Workers in New York Over Decades

NEW YORK — On Thursday, April 6th at 12:00pm ET, Applebee’s workers, restaurant workers in New York, and elected officials will gather outside an Applebee’s in the South Bronx to draw attention to how New York’s subminimum wage for tipped workers contributes to racial pay inequity. The protest will uplift a legal charge filed by Applebee’s workers with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission against Apple-Metro, NY Franchise Owner, for paying mostly Black and dark-skinned tipped workers in the South Bronx the subminimum wage for tipped workers, while paying predominantly non-Black workers in Manhattan that are in identical positions at least $15 plus tips. 

WHEN: Thursday, April 6, 12pm
WHERE: Applebee’s Bronx Terminal, 601 Exterior St., Bronx
SPEAKERS INCLUDE: Justin Onwenu, Applebee’s Worker; Dennis Parker and Anjana Malhotra, Senior Attorney, National Center for Law & Economic Justice, Naila Rosario, Policy Director, One Fair Wage
LOCAL CONTACT: Estefania Galvis, Co-Organizing Director, (813) 898-9136

The protest is organized by One Fair Wage, a national nonprofit that advocates on behalf of workers earning subminimum wages, and the workers are being represented by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice and HKM Employment Attorneys LLP. The workers and One Fair Wage are arguing that these racial inequities are the result of the NY State Legislature allowing for a subminimum wage for tipped workers, which allows for racial pay gaps like this one. 


The charge was filed with the EEOC and crossfiled with the New York City Human Rights Commission and the New York State Division of Human Rights. The charge alleges that Apple-Metro, the Applebee’s NYC franchise operator, pays the full min wage of $15 plus tips to Manhattan Applebee’s servers who are far less Black, while paying the subminimum wage of $10 to the South Bronx Applebee’s servers who are at least half Black. “Like the Manhattan location, the South Bronx Applebee’s is one of the highest grossing locations in the city but there’s one big difference. In the Bronx, we’re severely underpaid with the hourly wage difference alone accounting for an over $10,000 per year pay disparity,” said Justin Onwenu, Applebee’s server who filed a wage discrimination charge today. “Bronx workers go through the same training, we put in the same hours, and we do the same work as workers in Manhattan only to be paid less than the minimum wage. Every worker deserves a fair wage no matter your background. With this complaint, we’re saying enough is enough.”

One Fair Wage released a report last week which found that tipped restaurant workers, who have been overwhelmingly women and disproportionately women of color since they were first excluded from the federal minimum wage in 1938, have been repeatedly negotiated out of minimum wage increases since the inception of a minimum wage in New York State, often as a result of negotiations between legislators and the National Restaurant Association’s New York-based affiliates, the New York State Restaurant Association and the New York City Hospitality Alliance


Topline findings from the report include:

Black women tipped workers in New York earn $3.01 per hour less than their white male counterparts, as a result of both customer bias in tipping and racial segregation by occupation — women and people of color being segregated into lesser-tipping positions (bussers instead of servers and bartenders) and more casual restaurants where tips are less.

“Women and women of color workers have experienced the most unjust and inequitable economic outcomes possible throughout U.S. history, in times of both crisis and prosperity,” said Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage. “Black women are still most likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic or face unprecedented rates of housing and food insecurity. In the restaurant industry, the fastest-growing but lowest-paying industry in the country, this inequity is tied to a history of structural racism; particularly to the origins of the subminimum wage for tipped workers. We are at a critical moment for women who are tipped service industry workers, and we must end the subminimum wage and enable them to achieve greater equity in the workplace. Until then, New York State is only exacerbating economic, racial, and gender inequities faced by this workforce.”

“Instead of telling women of color to wait once again, New York legislators can once and for all grant what they have granted to all other workers, including all other tipped workers — the right to a full, fair minimum wage from their employer, with tips on top.”

“The pay disparity suffered by Justin and Black and dark-skinned Applebee’s workers is a result of racial discrimination, made possible by the fact that tipped restaurant workers have been repeatedly excluded from minimum wage increases,” said NCLEJ Senior Attorney Anjana Malhotra. “We are determined not just to hold Apple-Metro responsible for their racially-discriminatory pay practices, but to secure a livable wage for all workers in New York.”

As a result of these inequities, New York’s rate of restaurant worker exodus was higher than any other state in the United States – while one in 10 workers left the industry nationally, one in five workers left New York State’s industry, creating the worst staffing crisis in the history of the industry. Of the workers who remain, 50 percent of those who remain in the NY restaurant industry reported that they are considering leaving; 90 percent say the only thing that will make them stay or return to working in restaurants is a full livable wage with tips on top.

In response, thousands of restaurants nationally and at least over 500 restaurants in New York have voluntarily transitioned to paying a full minimum wage with tips on top. 

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