In early 2016, lead plaintiff James Conlon filed a lawsuit against Surly Brewing Company on behalf of himself and similarly situated bartenders and servers. The lawsuit alleged that the popular local brewery was systematically violating the rights of its servers and bartenders under the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act. The MFLSA prohibits employers in the service industry from shifting the labor costs of their indirect-service employees (e.g., hosts and bussers) onto the backs of direct-service employees like bartenders and servers. The MFLSA does this by forbidding employers from requiring direct-service employees to pool and share tips with indirect-service employees. And while the statute allows employees to voluntarily enter into agreements to pool and share tips, it mandates that employees must be allowed to do so without the employer's participation or coercion. According to the Complaint, Surly designed, created, implemented, and began enforcing a mandatory tip pool in December 2014.
Earlier this year, Hennepin County District court Judge Karen A. Janisch granted plaintiff's motion to certify the case against Surly as a class action. The Court defined the class as all people who have worked shifts as bartenders and servers from the date Surly opened its Beer Hall. On July 12, 2017, the Court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on behalf of the class for the entire class period. The Court held, as a matter of law, that Surly's tip-pool system violated the MFLSA's tip-pooling provision when it opened and remains in violation today.
"It is a good day for Surly's current and former employees," said Plaintiffs' counsel Steven Andrew Smith. "But it is also a good day for Minnesota employees more generally. It is not easy for employees to stand up for their rights. And this is particularly true when their employers are as successful and popular as Surly. The Court's order gives employees--especially, employees in the service industry--reason to believe that Minnesota Courts will uphold the rights they have been given by the Minnesota Legislature."
Counsel for Plaintiffs are Steven Andrew Smith and Matthew A. Frank of Nichols Kaster, PLLP which has offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota and San Francisco, California, and Brian Ranwick of Ranwick Law, P.A. in Plymouth, Minnesota. The case is entitled James Russell Conlon, individually and on behalf of himself and the Rule 23 Class v. Surly Brewing Company. It is filed in Minnesota state court in the Fourth Judicial District, Court File No. 27-CV-16-2517.