An ice cream cone may be "an epicurean delight," but that doesn't make it a meal, a D.C. Superior Court judge has ruled.
Because of that, Judge Nicholas A. Nunzio said, it was wrong for restaurateur Ulysses (Blackie) Auger to deduct from employes' paychecks the value of cones they ate during work breaks at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store that Auger operates at 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Auger also operates several Washington restaurants, including his flagship, Blackie's House of Beef.
Nunzio's opinion, filed late last week, cleared the way for the wage-hour division of the D.C. Labor Department to order Auger to repay all the deducted money to about 10 employes.
Auger's attorney, Donald Cefaratti Jr., estimated the amount at "perhaps a couple huncred dollars," and indicated the case would not be further contested. He said such deductions are no longer being made.
Under D.C. law, operators of restauants are permitted to deduct $1.10 for each four hours of work for meals served to employes. The law does not, however, define meals.
In 1978, wage-hour investigators checked the store's payroll records for possible violations of the minimum wage law. They found the deductions for ice cream eaten as meals.
Auger, facing a Labor Department refund order, filed suit asking a judge to rule that the deduction was proper. Since then, lawyers for the city and for Auger argued the case through briefs filed with Nunzio.
In his ruling, Nunzio said he could not lay down a general rule as to what constitutes a meal. Sometimes a sandwich may be considered a meal, he wrote, and sometimes not.
"While this court is prepared to concede that ice cream is an epicurean delight . . . it does not follow that plaintiff (Auger) serves meals to his employes," Nunzio wrote.
"While many people eat some bizarre things and call them a meal for a variety of reasons -- e.g., fad diets, junk food junkies -- we at least have the freedom to make our next repast what conventional nutritionist would deem to be a balanced meal," the judge concluded.