Tip Your Server: Restaurant Chain Violated FLSA

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed that a national restaurant chain that forced its servers to share tips with food expediters and quality assurance workers violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  In Roussell v. Brinker International Inc., the jury awarded $270,000 in damages and roughly $1.5 million in attorneys’ fees to 55 plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs were a group of Chili’s restaurant servers who alleged that their managers forced them to split tips with workers who were outside the class of those allowed by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) to participate in a tip pool.  Generally, the FLSA allows employers to pay tipped employees $2.13 per hour as long as the tips earned cover the difference between that and the minimum wage and the employee retains all tips earned.  However, the FLSA allows an exception for employees who regularly receive tips to pool tips.  The court ruled that Chili’s violated the FLSA because the food expediters and quality assurance workers were not within the class allowed to participate in the tip pool.  Furthermore, the court found that Chili’s also violated the FLSA by forcing its employees to share their tips.

After this decision, employers must be certain that their current tip policies are in compliance with the FLSA and DOL classifications.  Employers concerned about their current tip pooling procedures should seek legal assistance.

For more information, please contact Patrick Peters at ppeters@beneschlaw.com or (216) 363-4434.

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