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Server Wins Tip-Pooling Claim against Pinstripes

On September 26, 2013, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled that Pinstripes, a restaurant and event venue in Edina, Minnesota, violated the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act’s provisions on tip-pooling by requiring its servers to share their tips with “server assistants,” who act as servers’ support staff at the restaurant.

The Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (“MFLSA”) makes it illegal for employers to require direct service employees to share their tips with indirect service employees and additionally makes it illegal for employers to even participate in an agreement between direct and indirect service employees to share tips.  Plaintiff Jamal Huff, a former server at Pinstripes, brought suit in 2011 alleging that Pinstripes violated the MFLSA by requiring servers to share a preset amount of tips with “server assistants” and by illegally running the tip pool through the company’s point-of-sale system.  After hearing argument on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment, the Court rejected Pinstripes’ argument that a “team” approach to service at the restaurant made server assistants direct service employees.  Granting summary judgment for Plaintiff on the issue of tip-pooling in the “Bistro” portion of Pinstripes, Judge Susan Richard Nelson held that “server assistants are indirect service employees and that Defendant’s actions in requiring its servers to share tips with server assistants, and by participating in the tip-sharing process, violate Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 3.”  Plaintiff’s motion for class certification on this issue is currently under advisement.  Additionally, Plaintiff was granted leave to take discovery on his unrelated claim that Pinstripes unlawfully retained his gratuities by keeping a portion of the service charge customers paid for events held at the venue.

Plaintiff’s Counsel Anna P. Prakash stated, “The Court’s decision is important for all workers in Minnesota’s service industry.  It acknowledges and reaffirms that Minnesota law gives employees a property right to their gratuities and gives them the choice to share those gratuities with coworkers such as bussers or server assistants free of coercion and on a voluntary basis.  Employers cannot use their servers’ gratuities to supplement the wages of indirect service employees instead of paying higher and more competitive wages themselves.  We are very pleased with the decision.”

Plaintiff is represented by Steven Andrew Smith and Anna P. Prakash from Nichols Kaster, PLLP, which has offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota and San Francisco, California.  The case is entitled Huff v. Pinstripes, Inc., No. 11-3681 (SRN/JJK) (D. Minn.).  Additional information can be found here.