Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are required to pay all hourly employees a minimum wage of at least $7.25 per hour, assuming that this wage, combined with the tips the employees receive, add up to at least $7.25 per hour.
Employers are also allowed to create a tip pool into which all of the employees put their tips. The total is then to be divided evenly among the employees who are part of the tip pool. However, only certain employees are eligible to participate in tip pools. On its website, the U. S. Department of Labor states that employees who do not usually receive tips, such as “dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors” re ineligible to participate in tip pools.
A recent class action lawsuit has been filed in federal court against Gusano’s Chicago-Style Pizzeria for allegedly using an illegal tip-pooling policy and paying its waiters less than the federal minimum wage. Jacqueline Conners, a former server at Gusano’s, alleges that she was forced to add her tips to a tip pool which allegedly included cooks and other kitchen employees who do not typically receive tips. Conners alleges that, as a result of the illegal tip pool, she and other servers at the restaurant were paid less than minimum wage for the hours that they worked there.
One of the attorneys representing Conners in the wage and hour lawsuit stated that it is common for some companies to include additional employees in a tip pool in order to reduce the company’s overall labor costs. The lawsuit points out that the FLSA allows employers to take a “tip credit” which is equal to the difference between the restaurant’s cash wage and the federal minimum wage. However, because Gusano’s allegedly illegally included employees who should not have been able to participate in the tip pool, the complaint says that Gusano’s “is not eligible to take the tip credit.”
Gusano’s has seven locations in three states. Although each location is “normally owned by a separate corporate entity,” the lawsuit alleges that the restaurants are operated as a single enterprise and that the company uses the same employment practices at all of the restaurant’s locations. Therefore, all employees, at all of the restaurant’s locations, who were forced to participate in the illegal tip pool, are eligible to participate in the class.
Conners is seeking minimum-wage back pay and the return of all owed tips for herself and all other situated employees who worked at the restaurant for three years before the lawsuit was filed.
In addition to the wage and hour lawsuit, Conners has also filed a separate lawsuit against the pizza chain alleging that she was wrongfully terminated. According to the complaint, Conners called the police when she saw a woman drinking alcohol while breastfeeding a baby. The mother was arrested, but Conners was allegedly reprimanded by her employer for “not taking the business into consideration”. Conners’s employment at Gusano’s was terminated six days after the incident.
The attorneys at Chicago Overtime Law Center have decades of experience litigating wage and hour cases, including overtime, vacation pay, meal breaks, and tips. The Chicago Overtime Law Center has offices conveniently located in Oakbrook Terrace and Chicago, Illinois. We handle cases in North Chicago and Elgin and throughout the Chicago area. If you live in Illinois and have a wage and hour dispute, contact an Urbana overtime attorney today at 312-869-4095 or online.