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Wage and hour class actions are about as appealing as a bland, chain restaurant burger. And Ruby Tuesday just got served with an extra helping of hard to swallow litigation, now that a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of every single tipped worker who worked at Ruby Tuesday locations in the last three years. If things go really badly for the restaurant chain, workers could be entitled up to $10.24 per hour of back pay -- across thousands of workers and 650-something locations, mind you.
And Ruby Tuesday isn't alone. Employment suits have been coming from multiple directions making the business of dining a complicated one indeed.
Charlene Craig: Ruby Tuesday Servers' Joan-of-Arc
The class action first began with the lawsuit filed by Charlene Craig, a Tennessee waitress who said that more than 20 percent of her and other servers' time was spent on non-tippable work like cutting lemons, refilling ice bins, rolling silverware and cleaning the floors.
What's so important about the 20 percent number? Seasoned labor lawyers know that federal law minimum waged for "tipped workers" is $2.13. Up to 20 percent of these workers' time may be made up by non-tipped work under the rational that their tips will make up the difference. (Currently, federal, non-tipped minimum wage is $7.25 and has not budged for 25 years.)
Craig points to a culture of "just deal with it" within the industry. She claims that she and others like her were forced to work well beyond that 20 percent figure in terms of non-tipped work. Her suit calls on all servers and bartenders who've worked at a Ruby Tuesday location anywhere in the country to join. If the workers are successful, the suit could be ruinous for Ruby Tuesday.
Better to Settle?
Employers facing large class actions might consider fighting the suits in court, rather than pursuing settlements, but precedent does not always bode well for them. A few years ago, Applebee's fought a 'tipped credit' lawsuit, all the way to the doors of the Supreme Court -- which were kept closed after the Court denied cert.
The lesson for in house lawyers? Employment suits involving tipped-workers rarely end well for the employers. Get the word out to locations that such labor practices will cost managers their jobs for breach of labor laws. And get ready for settlement.