Sepia sommelier sues Martin Benn and Vicki Wild for underpayment

Sepia co-owner and chef Martin Benn. Image source: @martinbennreal via Instagram

A former sommelier at now-closed Sydney fine-diner Sepia is suing the restaurant’s parent company and owners Vicki Wild and chef Martin Benn for alleged underpayment and mistreatment.

As reported by Fairfax, Rodney Setter lodged a claim with the Federal Court claiming he regularly worked unpaid overtime and was denied a redundancy package despite having worked there for 10 years.

The claim states his annual salary was $52,000 a year when he started at Sepia in 2009, yet while being paid for 38-hour weeks, regularly worked in excess of 60 hours a week.

A spokeswoman for Benn and Wild told Fairfax: ''Given Mr Setter’s salary and the hours he was required to work, the underpayment allegations are vehemently denied,'' also stating he was paid $90,000 a year at the end of his employment.

The spokeswoman said that Setter ''failed to engage with them'' over redundancy pay when the three-hat restaurant closed late last year.

"The industry still operates in almost complete disregard of labour standards," Setter’s lawyer Josh Bornstein told Fairfax, also claiming Setter’s case could be worth several hundred thousand dollars.

The couple announced last month that they will be opening a new restaurant with restaurateur Chris Lucas at the new 80 Collins development in Melbourne’s CBD next year.

The new restaurant will span 2000 square metres over multiple levels, which Lucas has called “the project of a lifetime”

Lucas owns popular restaurants Chin Chin and Kisume, and in 2017 was also ordered to pay a bartender $9500 over alleged underpayments.

This is the latest in a string of underpayment scandals in the industry, following Teague Ezard, Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group, and George Calombaris, who recently announced the closure of his Melbourne fine diner the Press Club. 

Setter is now seeking four months' redundancy pay, penalties and compensation for underpayments.