Tipped Workers Hit Fla. Hard Rock With Wage Action

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hard Rock Cafe International Inc. was smacked with a putative class action Tuesday alleging servers and bartenders at its Orlando, Fla., restaurant were illegally paid less than minimum wage.  The complaint, lodged in Circuit Court in Orange County, Fla., said that Florida and federal law allows companies to use a portion of tips to satisfy minimum wage obligations only when servers and bartenders retain all of their tips or when servers and bartenders set up a tip pooling arrangement.

But at the Hard Rock Cafe's Orlando restaurant, servers and bartenders improperly shared their tips with kitchen employees who were responsible for ensuring food was prepared and garnished properly, according to the complaint.  “Defendant utilized the tip credit to pay employees who served food and/or beverages to defendant’s customers an hourly wage rate that was less than the minimum wage ... even though those employees did not retain all of their tips and paid a portion of their tips to kitchen employees called 'expediters' who are not customarily and regularly tipped employees and are not engaged in service to customers,” the complaint said.  It added that the alleged wrongdoing occurred from January 2006 to July 2009.

“This case is unique because it is one of the first class actions filed solely using the minimum wage provisions of the Florida Constitution, which has a five-year statute of limitations for willful violations and provides for full recovery of the minimum wages and an equal amount of liquidated damages,” said Sam J. Smith, an attorney at Burr & Smith LLP who is representing the plaintiffs.  (click on link to read full story)