I received this e-mail from a former employee
They stood by him at the Woodmore Country Club as he unveiled the plans for his new 7,500 square foot restaurant. They listened as he talked about realizing his dream. It couldn’t be done without them, he said. He talked about his years on the field and how he had come to learn the team was the most important thing one could have. They were his team now. They were in it together, not as an owner and his employees, but as peers working together to accomplish the same goal. They watched as tears filled his eyes; he choked up and had to take a moment to regain his composure. “Each and every one of you is important to me” he told them. “This is a family affair and you are all now a part of my family.”

Weeks later they stood by him in the still-under-construction site of the new restaurant. Together they envisioned what it would look when it was complete–plush burgundy and gold furnishings, 34 flat screen tv’s, a gleaming granite bar. They could feel the energy that was sure to be present on Game Day Sundays. He explained his reason for bringing them there. “I wanted you to see it like this because we will never be at this point again.”

Just days before Superbowl 2008, The Sideline opened to the public. It had already been a long road up to that point but together Lavar Arrington and his new team had done it. Then last week, a mere two days before Christmas, he fired them all.

The Sideline had a rocky run. A lack of training and proper supplies in the beginning made it difficult for the staff to do their jobs properly. Management and policies changed frequently. Financial pressures resulted in a change of the tip policy. Employees would no longer be able to get tips paid by credit card at the end of thier shift as is customary in the restaurant industry. The company would now hold these tips and use the money to pay bills and buy inventory. The employees would have this money returned to them on their paychecks. Some staff members left, others stayed. They persisted and gradually things improved.

Then, in one tragic moment, everything changed. In the early morning hours of March 1, 2009 seven people were shot, one fatally, outside the restaurant. The public perception of The Sideline had changed. People now associated it with violence and danger. Business declined dramatically, as did the employee’s wages. Schedules were cut and tips were nearly non-existent. Community meetings and court hearings were held to determine if The Sideline should be allowed to remain in business. Three months later, in June, The Sideline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Still, they stood by the former Washington Redskin.

Seeming to defy all odds, the business bounced back. The staffs’ loyalty had seemingly paid off. Business grew rapidly. Management became more and more confident in the long term stability of The Sideline. “We’re on the right track” and “things are looking really good” they told the staff. Still, they weren’t out of the woods. Often the company couldn’t afford to pay the employees. Paychecks were held–sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few weeks. Frequently the employees would finally receive their overdue checks only to have them bounce. For many of the employees who worked for tips the checks weren’t only about the hourly wage. After all, a restaurant is only required to pay tipped employees half of minimum wage. It was about reclaiming the tips they had to “loan” the company. For the rest of the staff the hourly wage was all they had. Even still, they stayed.

The repercussions of inconsistent paychecks went far beyond just having a slim bank account. At least one employee, whose checks were garnished for child support, faced driver’s license suspension and possible arrest when the garnished portions of his checks bounced and child support was not received. Several employees had difficulties paying their mortgages and rents on time. A handful of them were facing eviction. Everyone went into the holiday season feeling strapped for cash. Yet the holiday schedule was in place, New Year’s party planned, and no one had any reason to think they wouldn’t eventually get their money.

On December 23, at 2am, the employees received the following email:

I am writing to inform you that The Sideline is no longer in business. I do not have any more information to give to you at this time. As soon as more information is made available, someone will be in contact with you. If you call my cell phone I will not have any additional information to give you.

It was from Carl Levin, the General Manager. Some employees hadn’t even arrived home from the previous shift when they received the bad news. By noon The Sideline had been cleared out and the employees weren’t allowed to set foot on the property. Throughout the day employees who hadn’t received the email arrived on time for their shifts only to find an empty shell of the once bustling restaurant. Customers who made deposits for VIP sections and the New Year’s party had lost their money.

No one has been able to give the employees details on when they will be paid in full. Arrington has been unreachable and Levin has stated that since he is no longer employeed by the restaurant, he has no control over when, or if, the checks will be distributed.

Where does this leave the roughly fifty former employees? The ones who always stood by Arrington through it all? They are without a full month’s pay. For many that includes the tips they should have been able to take same-day in the first place. The payroll has already been processed, meaning they will pay taxes on income they never received. The employees have had little luck contacting the former management and will likely have difficulties filing for unemployment. Banding together to bring a lawsuit is one option. However, Arrington is already facing suits from the Capital Centre Management Group, U.S. Food Services, Reliable-Churchill, and the State of Maryland. It will clearly be a lengthy process with no guarantees of success. Unless Arrington has a change of heart, it is unlikely they will ever receive their due pay.

A few things are likely: Arrington’s life will carry on largely unaffected, his home won’t face foreclosure, his children will continue to have the best of everything, and he will continue to drive his Maserati to his daily radio show on 106.7 The Fan. And those who stood by him through it all have learned an important life lesson: Being loyal doesn’t always pay.

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