Tag Archives: Tipped Minimum Wage

D.Colo.: “Expeditor” Proper Participant in Restaurant’s Tip Pool

Giuffre v. Marys Lake Lodge, LLC

This case was before the court on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. At issue was whether its tip pool- which included its “expeditors”- complied with the FLSA. Holding that the defendant-restaurant was entitled to include the expeditor in the tip pool, the court reasoned that: (1) the expeditor was properly deemed a “front-of-the-house” employee with requisite duties to be deemed a “tipped employee;” (2) the expeditor was not an “employer” under the FLSA; and (3) the defendant had properly put plaintiff on notice of its intention to take the tip credit. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion.

Briefly discussing the chief issue of interest, the court explained:

MLL utilized the expeditor position on busy nights to assist in its restaurant. Defendants contend that the expeditor is a “front of the house” position that falls within the definition of a “tipped employee” for purposes of the FLSA, thus barring plaintiff’s claim that the tip credit is invalidated by the sharing requirement. See Roussell v. Brinker Int’l, Inc., 441 F. App’x 222, 231 (5th Cir.2011) (“Customarily, front-of-the-house staff like servers and bartenders receive tips. Back-of-the-house staff like cooks and dishwashers do not, and thus cannot participate in a mandatory tip pool.”). In arguing about whether the expeditor could share in tips, the parties focus on the position’s level of interaction with customers. See id. (“Direct customer interaction is relevant because it is one of the factors distinguishing these two categories of workers.”); see Townsend v.. BG–Meridian, Inc., 2005 WL 2978899, at *6 (W.D.Okla. Nov. 7, 2005) (“The cases that have considered whether a given occupation falls within the definition of a tipped employee have focused on the level of customer interaction involved in that occupation.”).

Plaintiff admits that, during the time he worked at MLL, the expeditor position was usually filled by Mikilynn Wollett. See Docket No. 64 at 3, ¶ 8; Docket No. 92 at 3, ¶ 8. Ms. Wollett descibes the expeditor as a “front of the house” position with the following responsibilities: “checking the plates as they come out from the kitchen cooks to make sure they match the tickets; placing the food on the serving trays; taking the serving trays to the tables and delivering the food to customers; checking in with customers about their meals and exchanging food if the customer has [a] complaint; refilling beverages; chatting with customers; and assisting the wait staff in any other way necessary.” Docket No. 64 –1 at 2, ¶¶ 1–2. According to Ms. Wollett, the “position is very similar to that of a waiter, and the attire is nearly identical, but the expeditor/food runner does not take the customers’ orders.” Id. at 1, ¶ 2.

Curiously, the court appears to have resolved factual issues with regard to the alleged duties of the expeditor and simply rejected plaintiff’s proffered evidence in that regard. As such, the court seemed to imply that with a stronger factual record- supported by testimony other than that of the named-plaintiff alone- it may have reached a different result, at least at the summary judgment stage. Thus, it’s not clear how much precedential value this case will have, if any.

Click Giuffre v. Marys Lake Lodge, LLC to read the entire Order.

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D.Colo.: Pizza Hut Delivery Drivers’ Minimum Wage Claims, Premised on Claim That Defendants Failed to Reasonably Estimate Vehicle-Related Expenses for Reimbursement Can Proceed; Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Denied

Darrow v. WKRP Management, LLC

This matter was before the Court on the defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s second amended complaint.  Plaintiff, a Pizza Hut delivery driver, alleged that defendants, Pizza Hut franchisees, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Colorado Minimum Wage of Workers Act (“CMWWA”) by failing to reasonably approximate his automotive expenses for reimbursement purposes, and thereby, failing to pay him minimum wage.

Significantly, defendants paid plaintiff and opt-in plaintiffs at or near the Colorado minimum wage from 2007 to 2009.  According to the court, on average, the plaintiff and opt-in plaintiffs delivered two to three orders per hour and drove five miles per delivery.  Plaintiff alleged that defendants required their delivery drivers to ‘maintain and pay for safe, legally-operable, and insured automobiles when delivering WKRP’s pizza and other food items.’  Defendants reimbursed Plaintiff between $0.75 and $1.00 per delivery for the vehicle expenses incurred by plaintiff to make deliveries. Plaintiff alleged that it was defendants’ policy and practice to unreasonably estimate employees’ automotive expenses for reimbursement purposes, which caused Plaintiff and other similarly situated individuals to be paid less than the federal minimum wage and the Colorado minimum wage from 2007 to 2009 in violation of the FLSA and the CMWWA.

Rejecting defendants’ argument that plaintiff failed to state a claim for unpaid minimum wages under these facts, the court looked to the section 7(e)(2), which states that an employee’s regular rate does not include travel or other expenses incurred in furtherance of the employer’s interest:

“The FLSA provides a definition for “wages,” but does not address an employer’s reimbursement of expenses. However, “[Department of Labor] regulations are entitled to judicial deference, and are the primary source of guidance for determining the scope and extent of exemptions to the FLSA,” including expense reimbursement. Spadling v. City of Tulsa, 95 F.3d 1492, 1495 (10th Cir.1996). Therefore, the Court will look to the Department of Labor regulations to determine whether, under the FLSA, an employee may claim that his wages are reduced below the minimum wage when he is under-reimbursed for vehicle-related expenses. Under 29 C.F.R. § 531.35, “the wage requirements of the [FLSA] will not be met where the employee ‘kicks-back’ directly or indirectly to the employer or to another person for the employer’s benefit the whole or part of the wage delivered to the employee.” A kickback occurs when the cost of tools that are specifically required for the performance of the employee’s particular work “cuts into the minimum or overtime wages required to be paid him under the Act.” Id. Section 531.35 specifically incorporates § 531.32(c), which in turn incorporates § 778.217, which states:

Where an employee incurs expenses on his employer’s behalf or where he is required to expend sums solely by reason of action taken for the convenience of his employer, section 7(e)(2) [which provides that employee's regular rate does not include travel or other expenses incurred in furtherance of the employer's interest] is applicable to reimbursement for such expenses. Payments made by the employer to cover such expenses are not included in the employee’s regular rate (if the amount of the reimbursement reasonably approximates the expenses incurred). Such payment is not compensation for services rendered by the employees during any hours worked in the workweek.  29 C.F.R. § 778.217(a). In Wass v. NPC International, Inc. (Wass I), 688 F.Supp.2d 1282, 1285–86 (D.Kan.2010), the court concluded that these regulations “permit an employer to approximate reasonably the amount of an employee’s vehicle expenses without affecting the amount of the employee’s wages for purposes of the federal minimum wage law.” However, if the employer makes an unreasonable approximation, the employee can claim that his wage rate was reduced because of expenses that were not sufficiently reimbursed. Id. at 1287.

Plaintiff alleges that his under-reimbursed vehicle expenses constituted a kickback to Defendants because Defendants failed to reasonably approximate Plaintiff’s vehicle-related expenses and Plaintiff was specifically required to use and maintain a vehicle to benefit Defendants’ business. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants’ unreasonable approximation of Plaintiff’s vehicle-related expenses led to Plaintiff’s wage being reduced below the minimum wage.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot use an estimated mileage rate as a substitute for actual vehicle-related expenses. Without pleading his actual expenses, Defendants contend that Plaintiff is unable to prove (1) that Defendants’ reimbursement rate was an unreasonable approximation, and (2) that Defendants paid him below the minimum wage as a result of the under-reimbursement. Plaintiff responds that he does not have to produce his actual automotive expenses in order to state a claim under the Iqbal and Twombly standard because he can raise the plausible inference that Defendants’ approximation of his vehicle-related expenses was unreasonable without knowing his actual expenses. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint meets the pleading standard under Iqbal and Twombly.”

After a recitation of the applicable law, the court held that plaintiff had sufficiently pled his estimated costs of running his vehicle, using a variety of facts, including the reimbursement rate paid by defendants versus the IRS’ mileage reimbursement rate.  Further, when taken together with plaintiff’s hourly wages, he had sufficiently pled that defendants failed to pay him at least the federal and/or Colorado minimum wage(s).  Therefore, the court denied defendants’ motion in its entirety.

Click Darrow v. WKRP Management, LLC to read the entire Order.

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8th Cir.: DOL’s 20% Rule, As Applicable to Tipped Employees Entitled to “Chevron” Deference; Relaxed Evidentiary Burden on Employees, Where Employer Failed to Maintain Proper Records Distinguishing Between Tipped and Non-Tipped Duties

Fast v. Applebee’s International, Inc.

This case was before the Eighth Circuit on Applebee’s interlocutory appeal of the district court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment.  The primary issue in the case was how to properly apply the “tip credit” to employees whom both sides agree are “tipped employees” but who perform both tipped and non-tipped (dual) jobs for the employer.  Relying on 29 C.F.R. § 531.56(e), the district court applied the so-called 20% rule promulgated by the D.O.L., requiring an employer to pay a tipped employee regular minimum wage to employees who spend more than 20% of their work time in a given week performing non-tipped duties.  Applebee’s challenged the ruling and asserted that the “dual job” regulations were inconsistent with 29 U.S.C. § 203(m) or the FLSA.  Affirming the decision below, the Eighth Circuit held that the D.O.L.’s regulations were entitled to “Chevron” deference and explained:

“Applebee’s argues that neither the statute nor the regulation places a quantitative limit on the amount of time a tipped employee can spend performing duties related to her tipped occupation (but not themselves tip producing) as long as the total tips received plus the cash wages equal or exceed the minimum wage. The regulation, to which we owe Chevron deference, makes a distinction between an employee performing two distinct jobs, one tipped and one not, and an employee performing related duties within an occupation “part of [the] time” and “occasionally.” § 531.56(e). By using the terms “part of [the] time” and “occasionally,” the regulation clearly places a temporal limit on the amount of related duties an employee can perform and still be considered to be engaged in the tip-producing occupation.  “Occasionally” is defined as “now and then; here and there; sometimes.” Webster’s Third New Int’l Unabridged Dictionary 1560 (1986); see also United States v. Hackman, 630 F.3d 1078, 1083 (8th Cir. 2011) (using dictionary to determine ordinary meaning of a term used in the commentary to the United States Sentencing Guidelines). The term “occasional” is also used in other contexts within the FLSA, such as in § 207, which allows a government employee to work “on an occasional or sporadic basis” in a different capacity from his regular employment without the occasional work hours being added to the regular work hours for calculating overtime compensation. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(2). The DOL’s regulation defines occasional or sporadic to mean “infrequent, irregular, or occurring in scattered instances.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.30(b)(1). Thus, the DOL’s regulations consistently place temporal limits on regulations dealing with the term “occasional.”

A temporal limitation is also consistent with the majority of cases that address duties related to a tipped occupation. The length of time an employee spends performing a particular “occupation” has been considered relevant in many cases. For example, even when the nontip-producing duties are related to a tipped occupation, if they are performed for an entire shift, the employee is not engaged in a tipped occupation and is not subject to the tip credit for that shift. See, e.g., Myers v. Copper Cellar Corp., 192 F.3d 546, 549-50 (6th Cir. 1999) (noting that 29 C.F.R. § 531.56(e) “illustrat[es] that an employee who discharges distinct duties on diverse work shifts may qualify as a tipped employee during one shift” but not the other and holding that servers who spent entire shifts working as “salad preparers” were employed in dual jobs, even though servers prepared the very same salads when no salad preparer was on duty, such that including salad preparers in a tip pool invalidated the pool); Roussell v. Brinker Int’l, Inc., No. 05-3733, 2008 WL 2714079, **12-13 (S.D. Tex. 2008) (employees who worked entire shift in Quality Assurance (QA) were not tipped employees eligible to be included in tip pool even though servers performed QA duties on shifts when no QA was working; court “agrees that such work likely can be considered incidental to a server’s job when performed intermittently,” but distinguished full shifts). The same is true of nontipped duties performed during distinct periods of time, such as before opening or after closing. See Dole v. Bishop, 740 F. Supp. 1221, 1228 (S.D. Miss. 1990) (“Because [the] cleaning and food preparation duties [performed for substantial periods of time before the restaurant opened] were not incidental to the waitresses’ tipped duties, the waitresses were entitled to the full statutory minimum wage during these periods of time.”).  Conversely, where the related duties are performed intermittently and as part of the primary occupation, the duties are subject to the tip credit. See, e.g., Pellon v. Bus. Representation Int’l, Inc., 528 F. Supp. 2d 1306, 1313 (S.D. Fla. 2007) (rejecting skycap employees’ challenge to use of the tip credit where “the tasks that allegedly violate the minimum wage are intertwined with direct tip-producing tasks throughout the day”), aff’d, 291 F. Appx. 310 (11th Cir. 2008).

Because the regulations do not define “occasionally” or “part of [the] time” for purposes of § 531.56(e), the regulation is ambiguous, and the ambiguity supports the DOL’s attempt to further interpret the regulation. See Auer, 519 U.S. at 461. We believe that the DOL’s interpretation contained in the Handbook—which concludes that employees who spend “substantial time” (defined as more than 20 percent) performing related but nontipped duties should be paid at the full minimum wage for that time without the tip credit—is a reasonable interpretation of the regulation. It certainly is not “clearly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.” Id. The regulation places a temporal limit on the amount of related nontipped work an employee can do and still be considered to be performing a tipped occupation. The DOL has used a 20 percent threshold to delineate the line between substantial and nonsubstantial work in various contexts within the FLSA. For example, an “employee employed as seaman on a vessel other than an American vessel” is not entitled to the protection of the minimum wage or overtime provisions of the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(12). The DOL recognized that seamen serving on such a vessel sometimes perform nonseaman work, to which the FLSA provisions do apply, and it adopted a regulation that provides that a seaman is employed as an exempt seaman even if he performs nonseaman work, as long as the work “is not substantial in amount.” 29 C.F.R. § 783.37. “[S]uch differing work is ‘substantial’ if it occupies more than 20 percent of the time worked by the employee during the workweek.” Id. Similarly, an employee employed in fire protection or law enforcement activities may perform nonexempt work without defeating the overtime exemption in 29 U.S.C. § 207(k) unless the nonexempt work “exceeds 20 percent of the total hours worked by that employee during the workweek.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.212(a). And an individual providing companionship services as defined in 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(15) does not defeat the exemption from overtime pay for that category of employee by performing general household work as long as “such work is incidental, i.e., does not exceed 20 percent of the total weekly hours worked.” 29 C.F.R. § 552.6. The 20 percent threshold used by the DOL in its Handbook is not inconsistent with § 531.56(e) and is a reasonable interpretation of the terms “part of [the] time” and “occasionally” used in that regulation.”

Determining that the issue was not properly before it, the court declined to answer the question of what duties are incidental to the tipped employee duties and what duties are not, stating:

“We note that the parties dispute which specific duties are subject to the 20 percent limit for related duties in a tipped occupation and which duties are the tip producing part of the server’s or bartender’s tipped occupation itself. The regulation lists activities such as “cleaning and setting tables, toasting bread, making coffee and occasionally washing dishes or glasses” as “related duties in . . . a tipped occupation.”  § 531.56(e). The Handbook repeats these examples and states that the 20 percent limit applies to “general preparation work or maintenance.” (Appellant’s Add. at 32,  DOL Handbook § 30d00(e).) Although the district court stated that “it was for the Court to decide what duties comprise the occupation of a server or bartender” (Dist. Ct. Order at 6 n.3), the order under review did not do so and concluded only that “[e]mployees may be paid the tipped wage rate for performing general preparation and maintenance duties, so long as those duties consume no more than twenty percent of the employees’ working time” (id. at 15). To the extent that questions remain concerning which duties the 20 percent rule applies to, those issues are beyond the scope of this interlocutory appeal, and we do not address them. We hold only that the district court properly concluded that the Handbook’s interpretation of § 531.56(e) governs this case.”

Lastly, citing the Supreme Court’s Mt. Clemens decision, the court held that the “recordkeeping rule” applies in situations where the employer fails to maintain sufficient records to distinguish between time spent performing tipped duties and non-tipped duties.

Click Fast v. Applebee’s International, Inc. to read the entire decision.

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DOL Publishes New FLSA Rules, Rejecting Pro-Employer Changes to Fluctuating Workweek and Comp Time, Clarifying Tip Credit Rules

On April 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its updates to its interpretative regulations regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the Federal Register.  to go into effect 30 days later.  The Updating Regulations, revise out of date CFR regulations. Specifically, these revisions conform the regulations to FLSA amendments passed in 1974, 1977, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2007, and Portal Act amendments passed in 1996.

As noted by several commentators, the final regulations are noteworthy for what was not included as much as for what was.  Below is a brief description of the most significant changes and those changes originally proposed, that were not adopted:

Fluctuating Workweek Under 29 C.F.R. §778.114

The proposed regulations issued by DOL in 2008 under the Bush administration (73 Fed. Reg. 43654) would have amended regulations on the “fluctuating workweek” method of calculating overtime pay for nonexempt employees who have agreed to received pay in the form of fixed weekly payments rather than in the form of an hourly wage.  The proposed regulations would have amended 29 C.F.R. §778.114 to permit payments of non-overtime bonuses and incentives (such as shift differentials) “without invalidating the guaranteed salary criterion required for the half-time overtime pay computation.”  The DOL left out this proposed change from the final rules however, saying it had “concluded that unless such payments are overtime premiums, they are incompatible with the fluctuating workweek method of computing overtime.”  Explaining the decision not to amend the FWW reg, the DOL noted that “several commenters … noted that the proposal would permit employers to reduce employees’ fixed weekly salaries and shift the bulk of the employees’ wages to bonus and premium pay” contra to the FLSA’s intent.  The DOL’s decision to decline the proposed amendment is consistent with virtually all case law on this issue, as discussed here and here.

Tipped Employees

The DOL has also decided to revise the proposed regulations’ interpretation of Congress’ 1974 amendment, section 3(m) of the FLSA, to require advance notice to tipped employees of information about the tip credit the employer is permitted to take based on its employees’ tips.  The final rule combines existing regulatory provisions to assure such employees are notified of the employer’s use of the tip credit, and how the employer calculates it.  This regulation too is consistent with case law on the subject, requiring advanced notice of the tip credit.

Compensatory Time

The final rules also do not include a proposed change that would have allowed public-sector employers to grant employees compensatory time requested “within a reasonable period” of the request, instead of on the specific dates requested. Instead, the final rule will leave the regulations unchanged, “consistent with [DOL’s] longstanding position that employees are entitled to use compensatory time on the date requested absent undue disruption to the agency.”

The new CFR regulations go into effect on May 5, 2011.

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S.D.Fla.: Employer Need Not Pay Employee MW For All Hours Worked to Take Advantage of Tip Credit

Goldin v. Boce Group, L.C.

This case was before the court on defendant’s motion to dismiss, for failure to state a claim.  The plaintiff’s theory of relief for minimum wage violations arose from the fact that while he worked 51 hours per week, each week, Defendants paid Plaintiff the required reduced minimum wage for only forty hours, and failed to pay him at all for the additional eleven hours of overtime. Plaintiff claimed that because Defendants “did not pay Plaintiff the required amount for every hour he worked,” they were not permitted to take advantage of the tip credit at all and must disgorge the entire tip credit.  Inasmuch as the FLSA requires that employers who seek to take the tip credit must pay tipped minimum wage in order to do so, this theory would seem to make perfect sense, however the court disagreed and dismissed the case.

The court reasoned:

“There is no basis in the FLSA for the relief Plaintiff seeks. The FLSA clearly lays out the prerequisites an employer must meet in order to claim the tip credit. There are only two: (1) the employer must inform the employee that the employee will be paid the reduced minimum wage; and (2) all tips received by the employee must be retained by the employee. 29 U.S.C. § 203(m).  There is no “condition precedent” that the reduced cash wage be paid for every hour worked before an employer is entitled to claim the statutorily-mandated tip credit. See id. Congress could, and did, write into the FLSA express conditions precedent to the application of the tip credit. The Court declines to read a condition precedent into the statute where Congress did not create one. In re Tennyson, 611 F.3d 873, 877 (11th Cir.2010) (stating that where statute is “clear, unambiguous, and does not result in any absurd consequences,” the Court “will not … read into the text of the statute an unstated purpose.”).

In addition, the FLSA very clearly lays out the remedies available to employees who are subject to FLSA violations by employers. Successful FLSA plaintiffs are entitled to recover “the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation, as the case may be, and [ ] an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Congress wrote specific remedies into the statute. Congress did not choose to include as a remedy disgorgement of the tip credit where the plaintiff is a tipped employee. The Court will not write this additional remedy into the statute where Congress did not see fit to do so. See In re Tennyson, 611 F.3d at 877.

In addition, two other divisions of court in this District have rejected Plaintiff’s theory on almost identical facts. See Muldowney v. Mac Acquisition, LLC, Case No. 09–22489–CIV, 2010 WL 520912 (S.D.Fla. Feb. 9, 2010) (Huck, J.); Perez v. Palermo Seafood, Inc., Case No. 07–21408–CIV, 2008 WL 7505704 (S.D.Fla. May 8, 2008) (O’Sullivan, M.J.). In both cases, a tipped employee who was paid the reduced minimum wage for some hours claimed their employers were not entitled to claim the tip credit because they were not paid for “off-the-clock work.”

In Palermo Seafood, Magistrate Judge O’Sullivan found no textual support in the statute for the plaintiff’s position, observing: “The cases that have disallowed the tip credit have done so because the employer failed to comply with one, or both, of the following requirements: (1) the employee receive proper notice of the tip credit and (2) that the employee is not required to share his or her tips with non-tipped employees.” 2008 WL 7505704 at *2. Accordingly, Judge O’Sullivan found tip credit should apply to the plaintiff’s regular shift hours, for which she was compensated at the reduced minimum wage. Id. at *1.

In Muldowney, Judge Huck came to the same conclusion:

Section 203(m) merely prescribes the method for calculating a tipped employee’s wages and sets forth two explicit requirements that must be met for an employer to claim the tip credit, both of which are satisfied in this case. The statute says nothing about unpaid wages due to off-the-clock hours. Further, by rejecting Plaintiff’s interpretation, she is not left without a remedy: she can seek unpaid wages for her alleged off-the-clock hours under state law or other sections of the FLSA. Therefore, the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to the tip credit for hours where Plaintiff was paid the specified reduced cash wage.2010 WL 520912 at *1.

The Court agrees with these two well-reasoned decisions. However, this does not mean, as Plaintiff argues, that employers are therefore not required to pay employees the minimum wage for every hour worked. Of course employers must compensate employees at the required rate for every hour worked, and of course the failure to do so is a violation of the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1) (providing minimum wage amounts); 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(2) (creating cause of action for violation of minimum wage and overtime provisions).”

It should be noted that this decision and the 2 decisions on which it relies were all rendered in the Southern District of Florida.  As tipped employee cases continue to become more and more prevalent though, as a result of tremendous amount of abuses of tipped workers in various industries, it will be interesting to see if courts outside of the Southern District of Florida have a different take, based on the text of 203(m).

Click Goldin v. Boce Group, L.C. to read the entire order.

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D.Md.: Employer-Owner Could Not Share in Employee Tip Pool Under FLSA, Regardless of Extent of His Bartending Activities

Gionfriddo v. Jason Zink, LLC

In this case tipped employees challenged the validity of the employer’s tip pool, due to the participation of “non-tipped employees” in the tip pool.  The case was before the court on a variety of motions.  Of significance here, the parties moved by cross motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether the defendant’s tip pool arrangement was valid or not.  The court held that the owner-operators participation in the tip pool necessarily rendered it invalid, notwithstanding the fact that he regularly bartended side by side with his tipped employer bartenders.  In doing so, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that an owner-operator, who earns primarily tips, can transform himself into a tipped employee, such that he may permissibly participate in a tip pool with other tipped employees.

The court reasoned:

“As previously mentioned, the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted to eliminate “labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers.” Pub.L. No. 75-718, 52 Stat. 1060 (1938) (codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.). To effectuate this aim, the FLSA requires that employees be paid a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1)(c). An exception exists for “tipped employees.” “Tipped employees” are those employees that are “engaged in an occupation in which [they] customarily and regularly receive[ ] more than $30 a month in tips.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(t). Those employees are required to receive at least the minimum wage, but their employers are permitted to pay a direct wage of $2.13 per hour and then take a “tip credit” to meet the $7.25 per hour minimum wage requirement. 29 U.S.C. § 203(m). In other words, an employer satisfies the FLSA if he pays his tipped employees at least $2.13 per hour, and that wage, in conjunction with the tips they receive, make up at least the $7.25 per hour minimum wage. Employees are permitted to share tips through a tip pooling or tip splitting arrangement so long as each employee customarily receive more than $30 per month in tips. 29 C.F.R. § 531.54. However, “[i]f tipped employees are required to participate in a tip pool with other employees who do not customarily receive tips, then the tip pool is invalid and the employer is not permitted to take a ‘tip credit.’ “ Wajcman v. Inv. Corp. of Palm Beach, 620 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1356 n. 3 (S.D.Fla.2009) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 203(m)). In the present case, the bartenders at the Taverns participated in a collective tip pool that was divided up according to a formula that accounts for the hours worked by each bartender.

Mr. Zink worked as a bartender at the Taverns and concedes that he participated in the tip pool. Mr. Zink also concedes that he satisfies the definition of “employer” under Section 203(d) of the FLSA. See Defs.’ Cross Mot. Summ. J. at 24, ECF No. 51-1. Both parties agree that bartending is typically a tipped occupation. Where the parties disagree, however, is on the question of whether an “employer” may also be a “tipped employee” and receive a share of the tip pool. Defendants argue that despite his status as an employer, Mr. Zink is nevertheless permitted to share in the tip pool because he can simultaneously be an “employer” and a tipped “employee” under the FLSA. In other words, because Mr. Zink works as a bartender, a position that ordinarily receives tips, his status as an employer is immaterial to the FLSA analysis. Plaintiffs respond by arguing that allowing Mr. Zink to simultaneously benefit from the “tip credit” exception to the minimum wage requirements and at the same time personally receive tips would be completely contradictory to the purpose behind the FLSA. Plaintiffs maintain that Mr. Zink, as the sole owner of the Taverns, and the Plaintiffs’ employer, simply may not participate in a tip pool, and that to the extent he did participate in a tip pool, that tip pool is invalid under the FLSA. In short, the question before this Court is to what extent, if any, an owner-employer who also tends bar is permitted to receive tips from an employee tip pool.

This precise question is an issue of first impression in this District and in the Fourth Circuit, but not elsewhere. Every court that has considered the issue has unequivocally held that the FLSA expressly prohibits employers from participating in employee tip pools. “Congress, in crafting the tip credit provision of section 3(m) of the FLSA did not create a middle ground allowing an employer both to take the tip credit and share employees’ tips.” Chung v. New Silver Palace Restaurant, Inc., 246 F.Supp.2d 220, 230 (S.D.N.Y.2002); see also, e.g., Morgan v. SpeakEasy, LLC, 625 F.Supp.2d 632, 652 (N.D.Ill.2007) (quoting Chung, 246 F.Supp.2d at 230); Ayres v. 127 Restaurant Corp., 12 F.Supp.2d 305, 308-09 (S.D.N.Y.1998) (finding tip pool invalid as a result of general manager’s participation); Davis v. B & S, Inc., 38 F.Supp.2d 707, 714 (N.D.Ind.1998) (“an employer is not eligible to take the tip credit, and will be liable for reimbursing an employee the full minimum wage that employee would have earned, if the employer exercises control over a portion of the employee’s tips”).

Despite the clear weight of authority holding that employers may not participate in employee tip pools, Defendants seek to carve out a novel legal question where there is none. Essentially, Defendants argue that the analysis undergirding the cases holding that employers may not participate in employee tip pools is fundamentally flawed because those courts considered the issue under the faulty premise that a particular individual may only be an employer or a tipped employee, and not both. See Defs.’ Cross Mot. Summ. J. at 26-34, ECF No. 51-1; Defs.’ Reply at 16, ECF No. 58. Defendants rely on a textual interpretation of the FLSA, and argue that as a result of the Act’s broad definition of “employer,” it is also possible for an employer to be a tipped employee if that person participates in an activity that customarily receives tips, such as bartending. Id. In this regard, Defendants are mistaken-the cases holding that employers may not participate in employee tip pools do not take the position that under no circumstances will an “employer” be prohibited from participating in a tip pool-indeed, in close cases courts have gone to great lengths to determine whether a person who possesses some managerial control may be considered a “tipped employee” under the FLSA. For example, in Rudy v. Consol. Restaurant Cos., No. 3:08-CV-0904-L, 2010 WL 3565418 (N.D.Tex. Aug. 18, 2010), the district court considered whether maître d’s, who possessed some managerial authority over regular restaurant waiters, were properly considered “tipped employees” as a result of their significant interaction with customers. Id. at *4-9. Similarly, in Davis v. B & S, Incorporated, 38 F.Supp.2d 707, 714 (N.D.Ind.1998), the court found that a material fact existed with regard to whether a general manager could participate in a tip pool and declined to grant summary judgment to the employee. Id. at 717 (“because issues of fact remain as to whether [the general manager] was a ‘tipped employee’ with regard to his work with the disc jockeys, the validity of his participation in the tip pool … cannot be resolved as a matter of law”).”

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S.D.Ohio: Inclusion Of Maître D’ In Tip Pool Not Necessarily Illegal; Evidence Demonstrated Maître D’ Lacked Management Duties To Make Him An FLSA Employer, If He Did Not Hire Or Fire

Strange v. Wade

This case was before the court on plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment regarding a variety of issues.  Although the court granted the motion in some respects, as discussed here, it denied the motion with respect to plaintiff’s claim that defendant’s inclusion of the maître d’ in its tip pool was illegal and invalidated the tip pool.  The court held that on the record before it, it was not possible to conclude that the maître d’ was a management employee rather than a properly tipped service employee.

Discussing this issue the court reasoned:

“The FLSA expressly prohibits employers from participating in employee tip pools. “Congress, in crafting the tip credit provision of section 3(m) of the FLSA did not create a middle ground allowing an employer both to take the tip credit and share employees’ tips.” Chung v. New Silver Place Rest., Inc., 246 F.Supp.2d 220, 230 (S.D.N.Y.2002); Wajcman v. Investment Corp. of Palm Beach, No. 07-80912-CIV, 2008 WL 783741, *3 (S.D.Fla. March 20, 2008) (“The theory here is that employees who exercise substantial managerial authority over the day to day operations of the business are functionally the ‘employers’ themselves”). Where employers participate in a tip pool, the pool is invalid. See Ayres v. 127 Restaurant Corp., 12 F.Supp.2d 305 (S.D.N.Y.1998) (tip pool violated FLSA where general manager, who had authority to suspend, hire and fire employees and analyze payroll costs, was allowed to participate in the pool).

Plaintiff argues that Pigall’s tip pool was invalid because Brown was a manager and shared in the pool. (Doc. 22-1.) In support of its argument, Plaintiff points to Brown’s guaranteed compensation, his participation in the opening of the restaurant, his authority to train, schedule and supervise the wait staff, and his authority to hire and fire employees. (Id.) Plaintiff cites to the depositions of Brown and de Cavel, wherein both men testified that Brown was considered part of the restaurant’s management team. (de Cavel Dep. 50:13-14; Brown Dep. 59:17-22.) These facts, Plaintiff argues, unequivocally establish that Brown was an employer for purposes of the FLSA. See Ayres, 12 F.Supp.2d at 307-08 (general manager of restaurant, who had full authority to suspend or terminate employees, supervised wait staff, made hiring decisions, assumed responsibility for budget and received weekly salary of $2000 was not an employee who “customarily and regularly received tips” under the FLSA).

Defendants agree that Brown participated in the tip pool but argue that he was not a manager and, thus, the tip pool was not invalid by virtue of the fact that Brown participated in it. Defendants point to Dole v. Continental Cuisine, Inc., 751 F.Supp. 799 (E.D.Ark.1990), to support their contention that Brown cannot be considered an employer under the Act. In Continental Cuisine, the individual in question was the maître d’ of the restaurant alleged to have violated the FLSA. 751 F.Supp. at 802-03. The maître d’ was responsible for setting up the dining room, seating and greeting customers, serving the first drink to customers, scheduling shifts for the wait staff, interviewing applicants for positions as waiters and waitresses, and recommending that persons be hired or fired. Id. at 800. Because the maître d’ did not have final authority to hire and fire employees, set wages, control restaurant operations, or control payroll, he was not considered an employer for purposes of the FLSA. Id. at 803. Defendants argue that, similar to the maître d’ in Continental Cuisine, Brown did not have the requisite managerial authority to be considered an employer under the Act.

The Court agrees with Defendants that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Brown is an employer under the FLSA. Although the parties appear to agree on many of the duties that Brown performs, there is conflicting testimony regarding whether Brown had full authority to hire and fire workers and how much control Brown exercised at the restaurant. For example, although Brown testified that he made final hiring decisions, he acknowledged that he was “not at liberty to hire someone” without de Cavel first meeting with that person. (Brown dep. 53:3-54:15.) Meanwhile, de Cavel testified that Brown was part of his management team and “fire[d] a few people without [his] agreement” (de Cavel dep. 50:13-14; 20:9-10). Conversely, Brown testified that he had no responsibility “for any decision that involved spending money.” (Brown dep. 51:19-20.) Based on the current record, and construing all facts in favor of Defendants, the Court believes that genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on this issue. Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment regarding the validity of the restaurant’s tip pool is DENIED.”

To read the entire decision, click here.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  In a recent decision going one step further, a court in the Northern District of Texas held on similar evidence, that as a matter of law, the inclusion of a maître d’ did not render a tip pool illegal.  Rudy v. Consolidated Restaurant Companies, Inc., 2010 WL 3565418 (N.D.Tex. Aug. 18, 2010).

It is clear from both of these decisions that while there is room for the argument that inclusion of a maître d’ may render an otherwise valid tip pool invalid, it is a very fact intensive issue and plaintiff attorneys would be wise to fully develop their factual record on issues of hiring/firing powers if they prosecute these claims.

Click here, to read more about the rules, regulations and laws applicable to Tipped Employees.

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D.Nev.: FLSA Precluded Nevada State Law Class Action

Daprizio v. Harrah’s Las Vegas, Inc.

This case was before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ state law claims on several grounds.  As discussed here, the Court ruled that the FLSA precludes Nevada State Law Class Action claims. 

“The Court finds that the FLSA precludes the state law class action. The conflict between the two mass action schemes involves the mechanisms by which parties become members of a suit. Defendant argues that “allowing the parallel claims to be pursued concurrently would allow the application of the collective action opt-out mechanism of Rule 23, invoked by the state law claims, to govern what Congress intended to be a more limited situation of opt-in collective action [under the FLSA].” (Mot. Dismiss 13, ECF No. 2). The Court agrees. The FLSA states that, “No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). This is the “opt-in” provision used for FLSA collective actions, under which a putative class member is not bound unless he or she affirmatively opts in to the suit. Gardenvariety class actions, however, are governed by Rule 23, which states that “the court will exclude from the class any member who requests exclusion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2)(B)(v). This is the “opt-out” provision, under which members of a certified class must affirmatively opt out of the class or be bound by the class action litigation. This divergence between the respective opt-in and opt-out procedures of a FLSA collective action and a garden-variety class action results in a class action under state labor laws being preempted by the FLSA’s collective action scheme.

The Ninth Circuit has based its preemption analysis on the Supreme Court’s three categories: (1) express preemption-“where Congress explicitly defines the extent to which its enactments preempt state law”; (2) field preemption-“where state law attempts to regulate conduct in a field that Congress intended the federal law exclusively to occupy”; and (3) conflict preemption-“where it is impossible to comply with both state and federal requirements, or where state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.”  Williamson v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 208 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir.2000) (citing Indus. Truck Ass’n, Inc. v. Henry, 125 F.3d 1305, 1309 (9th Cir.1997) (citing English v. Gen. Elec. Co., 496 U.S. 72, 78-80 (1990))). “Consideration of the issues arising under the Supremacy Clause ‘start[s] with the assumption that the historical police powers of the states [are] not to be superseded by … Federal Act unless that [is] the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.’ “ Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516 (1992) (quoting Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218 (1947)). “Preemption issues must be decided on a case-by-case basis.”   Williamson, 208 F.3d at 1155.

A court of this District has ruled that the FLSA precludes state-law labor class actions. In Williams v. Trendwest Resorts, Inc., the court found that “the class action mechanisms of the FLSA and Rule 23 are incompatible. It would be inappropriate to permit Plaintiff’s attempt to circumvent the restrictive opt-in requirement of the FLSA….” No. 2:05-CV-0605-RCJ-LRL, 2007 WL 2429149 at *4 (D.Nev. Aug. 20, 2007) (Jones, J.). In Trendwest Resorts, the defendant’s employees were attempting to recover overtime wages under the FLSA as well as under California state labor law. The court pointed out that notice was sent to 1578 employees of Trendwest Resorts in California and Nevada, but only 194 individuals had opted into the putative class. Id. Had Rule 23 been implemented, the other 1100 California employees who failed to affirmatively opt in would have been brought into the case. Id . In the present case, there is only one complaining party and an unknown number of potential class members. “[T]he policy behind requiring FLSA plaintiffs to opt in to the class would largely be thwarted if a plaintiff were permitted to back door the shoehorning in of unnamed parties through the vehicle of calling upon similar state statutes that lack such an opt-in requirement.” Leuthold v.. Destination Am., Inc., 224 F.R.D. 462, 470 (N.D.Cal.2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Plaintiff argues that no preemption issue exists since none of the three types of preemption apply. Express and field preemption are not in dispute since neither side alleges that the federal law expressly preempts state law or that labor disputes are strictly a federal issue. Conflict preemption, Plaintiff argues, also does not apply because the “Nevada overtime and minimum wage claims do not ‘stand as an obstacle’ to Congress’ purpose in enacting the FLSA.” (Resp. Mot. Dismiss 9:11-12, ECF No. 14). In support of this argument, Plaintiff points to the “savings clause” of the FLSA which allows states to enact wage and hour laws more favorable to workers than the minimum requirements of the FLSA and quotes Williamson, which states that, “the FLSA’s ‘savings clause’ is evidence that Congress did not intend to preempt the entire field.” 208 F.3d at 1151 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 218(a)). This argument is unpersuasive for two reasons. First, the savings clause of the FLSA that Plaintiff mentions deals expressly with minimum wages and child labor laws. The language leaves little room for broader inference and probably no room for broader application. Second, the quote from Williamson Plaintiff mentions explicitly refers to field preemption, a type of preemption Plaintiff explicitly disclaims. The savings clause simply means that plaintiffs may bring FLSA collective actions based on violations of state wage and hour laws that are stricter than federal requirements. But the fact that Congress permits suit based on a state’s wage and hour requirements that are stricter than those in the FLSA does nothing to ameliorate the conflict between the FLSA opt-in provision and the Rule 23 opt-out provision.

Because of the tension between the opt-in procedure of an FLSA collective action and the opt-out procedure of a garden-variety Rule 23 class action, a conflict exists. See, e.g., Rose v. Wildflower Bread Co., No. CV09-1348-PHX-JAT, 2010 WL 1781011, at *3 (D.Ariz. May 4, 2010). The Ninth Circuit has stated even more broadly in dicta that “[c]laims that are directly covered by the FLSA (such as overtime and retaliation disputes) must be brought under the FLSA.” Williamson, 208 F.3d at 1154. This could be read as preempting even Plaintiff’s individual claim, but that question is not before the Court.”

There continues to be a rift between various circuits (and even within circuits) as to whether so-called hybrid FLSA Collective Actions may co-exist with State Law Class claims.  Stay tuned to see whether the Supreme Court will ultimately weigh in.

To read the entire decision, click here.

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D.D.C.: High-Profile D.C. Chef Is An “Employer” And Personally Liable For Wage And Hour Violations At His Restaurant

Ventura v. Bebo Foods, Inc.

This case, concerning alleged Wage and Hour violations under the FLSA and the DCWPCL was before the Court on two issues: (1) whether defendant Roberto Donna (“Donna”) was personally liable for minimum wage and overtime violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the D.C. Wage Payment and Collection Law (“DCWPCL”); and (2) damages, if any, as to the corporate defendants.  The Court held that Donna was personally liable for such violations, but deferred on the remaining issues.

Discussing the personal liability of Donna, the Court reasoned:

“The Court concludes that Donna is personally liable under the FLSA and DCWPCL for minimum wage, overtime, and equal pay violations because he is an employer under both the FLSA and DCWPCL. To be liable for violations of the FLSA, the defendant must be an “employer.” 29 U.S.C. §§ 206-207 (2010). The FLSA defines “employer” to include “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” 29 U.S .C. § 203(d). This definition is broadly construed to serve the remedial purposes of the act. Morrison v. Int’l Programs Consortium, Inc., 253 F.3d 5, 10 (D.C.Cir.2001). Thus, courts look to the “economic reality” rather than technical common law concepts of agency to determine whether a defendant is an employer. Id. at 11; see also Donovan v. Agnew, 712 F.2d 1509, 1510 (1st Cir.1983).

In applying the economic reality test, the Court considers “the totality of the circumstances of the relationship between the plaintiff/employee and defendant/employer to determine whether the putative employer has the power to hire and fire, supervise and control work schedules or conditions of employment, determine rate and method of pay, and maintain employment records.” Del Villar v. Flynn Architectural Finishes, 664 F.Supp.2d 94, 96 (D.D.C.2009) (citing Morrison, 253 F.3d at 11). This test may show that more than one “employer” is liable for violations of the FLSA. Dep’t of Labor v. Cole Enterprises, Inc., 62 F.3d 775, 778 (6th Cir.1995). As a result, a corporate officer may qualify as an employer along with the corporation under the FLSA if the officer has operational control of a corporation’s covered enterprise. Agnew, 712 F.2d at 1511. To determine whether a corporate officer has operational control, the Court looks at the factors above plus the ownership interest of the corporate officer. See Cole Enterprises, 62 F.3d at 778 (explaining that an individual has operation control if he or she is a high level executive, has a significant ownership interest, controls significant functions of the business, and determines salaries and makes hiring decisions).

Here, plaintiffs have demonstrated that Donna is an “employer” under the FLSA because he has operational control over the corporate defendants. First, Donna is an executive with significant ownership interest in the corporate defendants. He is the president and sole owner of Bebo Foods and was the president and sole owner of RD Trattoria. (Donna Dep. at 18:3-20:11, 29:16-17.) He also owned eighty percent of Galileo. (Id. at 33:7-8.) Second, Donna had the power to hire and fire, control work schedules and supervise employees, determine pay rates, and maintain employment records. For example, Donna transferred employees from Galileo to Bebo Trattoria when Galileo closed in 2006, and he took part in the hiring of other employees. (Pls.’ Opp’n [12] to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 2; Donna Dep. 54:5-7.) Moreover, at the evidentiary hearing, several plaintiffs testified that Donna supervised plaintiffs on the floor of his restaurants. He also approved wage payments to plaintiffs, including the issuance of post-dated or unsigned checks, the payment of partial wages, and the withholding of any payment. (See, e.g., Ventura Aff. ¶¶ 7-9; Vuckovic Aff ¶ 4.) Furthermore, when plaintiffs complained about defendants’ payment practices, he informed them that he withheld wage payments-either in full or in part-from plaintiffs in order to pay Bebo Trattoria’s past debts for which he was behind in payment. (See, e.g., Ventura Aff. ¶ 7; Romic Aff. ¶ 10.) Indeed, plaintiffs’ evidence demonstrates that Donna exerted operational control over the corporate defendants.

Accordingly, Donna is an “employer” under the FLSA and is personally liable for the corporate defendants’ wage, overtime, and equal pay violations. Similarly, because the DCWPCL is construed consistently with the FLSA, Donna is an “employer” under the DCWPCL and is liable for the corporate defendants’ violations of its wage and overtime provisions.”

Due to the high volume of claims against restaurants and their chef-owners recently, this case will no-doubt will have wide-reaching reverberations.

To read the entire opinion, click here.

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S.D.Ind.: Exotic Dancers Are Employees, Not Independent Contractors; Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment Granted

Morse v. Mer Corp.

Before the Court were the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment.  Plaintiffs, exotic dancers, alleged that they were employees of Defendant, the owner of the adult entertainment facility where they worked.  Defendant alleged that Plaintiffs were independent contractors and thus, not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion and denied Defendants motion.

Reciting the facts pertinent to its inquiry, the Court explained:

“The Plaintiffs in this case were all exotic dancers at Dancers Showclub, an establishment owned and operated by the Defendant, in Indianapolis, Indiana. To be hired by the Defendant, an individual had to go to the club, complete an audition application, provide sufficient identification, and perform an audition by dancing to two or three songs. Individuals who passed their auditions and were hired by the Defendant were given a copy of the Entertainer Guidelines (Docket No. 58 Ex. 3). Many of these guidelines, such as those prohibiting the Plaintiffs from leaving with male patrons and those banning family and significant others from the club while the Plaintiffs were performing, were put in place to keep the Plaintiffs safe and to ensure that the Plaintiffs followed the law.

The Defendant classified the Plaintiffs as independent contractors. Accordingly, the Defendant never paid any of the Plaintiffs a wage or other compensation. Instead, the Plaintiffs earned their income by collecting tips from customers. The Defendant did not monitor the Plaintiffs’ income.

None of the Plaintiffs had set work schedules. They were free to come to work on whatever dates and times they chose. They were also free to develop their own clientele and could generate business by advertising on the internet. The Plaintiffs’ dancing rotation was set on a first come, first served basis. Once at work, the Defendant preferred that the Plaintiffs work at least a six-hour shift. At some point during her shift, each Plaintiff was required to pay a House Fee to the Defendant. The House Fee was based on when a Plaintiff checked in to work.

The Entertainer Guidelines suggest that the Plaintiffs pay a “tip out” to the bar and the disc jockey (“DJ”) at the end of every shift. The suggested gratuity is ten percent to the bar and five percent to the DJ. However, this is not a requirement, and the Plaintiffs were not prohibited from working if they failed to pay the recommended tip out.

According to the Entertainer Guidelines, the Plaintiffs were to charge a minimum of $20 for VIP dances. Some Plaintiffs charged more than $20 for VIP dances and, according to the Defendant, no Plaintiff was ever disciplined for charging less than $20 for a VIP dance. A Plaintiff’s success as an exotic dancer was based, in large part, on her ability to entice interaction with her customers.

Discussing and applying the relevant law, the Court explained:

“The Plaintiffs filed this collective action lawsuit alleging that the Defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U .S.C. § 201, by failing to pay them a minimum wage. The parties agree that the relevant inquiry is whether the Plaintiffs were employees or independent contractors. This determination of a worker’s status is a question of law. Sec’y of Labor v. Lauritzen, 835 F.2d 1529, 1535 (7th Cir.1985). “For purposes of social welfare legislation, such as the FLSA, ‘employees are those who as a matter of economic reality are dependent upon the business to which they render service.’ ” Id. at 1534 (quoting Mednick v. Albert Enters., Inc., 508 F.2d 297, 299 (5th Cir.1975)). To determine the parties’ economic reality, the Seventh Circuit “do[es] not look to a particular isolated factor but to all the circumstances of the work activity.” Id. The six factors considered by courts in this circuit are:

(1) the nature and degree of the alleged employer’s control as to the manner in which the work is to be performed; (2) the alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending upon his managerial skill; (3) the alleged employee’s investment in equipment or materials required for his task, or his employment of workers; (4) whether the service rendered requires a special skill; (5) the degree of permanency and duration of the working relationship; [and] (6) the extent to which the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business.  Id. at 1535.

There is no analogous Seventh Circuit case law, and the only federal appellate court to examine the issue of whether exotic dancers are employees or independent contractors was the Fifth Circuit in Reich v. Circle C. Investments, Inc., 998 F.2d 324 (5th Cir.1993). Like the Plaintiffs in the instant litigation, the exotic dancers in Circle C claimed that they were employees, not independent contractors. After applying the Fifth Circuit’s version of the economic realities test, the court of appeals agreed.”

Similarly, here the Court applied the various factors to determine that Plaintiffs were indeed employees, and not independent contractors:

“A. The Defendant’s control as to the manner in which the work is performed.

With respect to the control factor, the Fifth Circuit explained that the club “exercise[d] a great deal of control over the dancers .” Circle C, 998 F.2d at 327. The dancers were “required to comply with weekly work schedules, which Circle C compile[d].” Id. Dancers who were tardy were fined. Circle C set the prices for table and couch dances. Although dancers could choose their own costumes and their own music, both the costume and the music had to meet standards set by Circle C. Id. Circle C also extensively controlled the dancers’ conduct by promulgating rules including: “[N]o flat heels, no more than 15 minutes at one time in the dressing room, only one dancer in the restroom at a time, and all dancers must be ‘on the floor’ at opening time.” Id. Dancers who violated the code of conduct were fined.

The Plaintiffs in the instant case are “subject to a broad range of control by Defendant when it comes to the manner in which their work is performed.” Docket No. 57 at 8. When they are hired, the Plaintiffs receive and review a copy of the Entertainer Guidelines. These guidelines require that, among other things, the Plaintiffs: work at least a six hour shift; charge at least $20 for all VIP dances; refrain from inviting significant others or family members to the club while the Plaintiffs are working; and avoid walking with a lit cigarette, chewing gum, drinking anything from a bottle, or having a cell phone on the club floor. Docket No. 58 Ex. 3 ¶¶ 9-10, 12, 15. Another version of the Entertainer Guidelines prohibits the Plaintiffs from frequenting the club on days when they are not working. See Docket No. 58 Ex. 6 ¶ 13.

The Defendant claims that the Entertainer Guidelines were “of no real import,” Docket No. 64 at 12, because there was no written record of violations. Docket No. 65 Ex. 2 at 27, lines 18-20. Further, certain violations such as chewing gum on the floor were not punished. Id. at 36, lines 3-10. In addition, the Defendant argues that some of the Entertainer Guidelines were included “to ensure that the Entertainers’ behavior conformed with the law and to keep both the patrons and Entertainers safe.” Docket No. 64 at 15. Finally, the Defendant asserts that Circle C is distinguishable because the Plaintiffs in this case were free to work on the dates and times that they chose and thus they largely set their own schedules.

Despite the Defendant’s arguments otherwise, this case is analogous to Circle C. The Defendant in the instant case regulated the Plaintiffs’ behavior with a written code of conduct. Although the Defendant claims that the rules in the Entertainer Guidelines were never enforced, there is nothing in the record indicating that anyone informed the Plaintiffs of this fact. The Defendant cannot claim that it did not impose a significant amount of control on the Plaintiffs by arguing, with absolutely no evidentiary support, that the rules did not actually apply. While it is true that the Plaintiffs in the instant case could set their own work schedules, once at the club, the Defendant asked the Plaintiffs to work for a certain amount of time. The Plaintiffs could request music, but the music was ultimately controlled by the Defendant. See Docket No. 58 Ex. 5 at 46, lines 8-14. The Plaintiffs could pick their own costumes; however, as in Circle C, the Defendant had ultimate veto power. See id. 46-47. Further, the Defendant prohibited the Plaintiffs from being at the club in their free time and also prohibited the Plaintiffs’ families and significant others from coming to the club while the Plaintiffs were working. Docket No. 58 Ex. 6 ¶¶ 13, 16. Finally, the Defendant’s argument that many of the rules were imposed to protect the Plaintiffs and to ensure compliance with the law is unavailing. See Circle C, 998 F.2d at 327 (rejecting Circle C’s attempt to downplay its control). In short, all of the parties’ admissible evidence indicates that the Defendant exerted a significant amount of control over the Plaintiffs. Thus, although the Defendant exercises less control than the club in Circle C, the Defendant’s conduct still indicates that the Plaintiffs were employees.

B. The Plaintiffs’ opportunity for profit or loss.

As to the opportunity for profit and loss, in Circle C the Fifth Circuit noted that although a dancer’s “initiative, hustle, and costume significantly contribute to the amount of her tips,” Circle C, 998 F.2d at 328, the dancers were not responsible for drawing customers to the club in the first place. “Circle C is responsible for advertisement, location, business hours, maintenance of facilities, aesthetics, and inventory of beverages and food.” Id. The court concluded that “[g]iven its control over determinants of customer volume, Circle C exercises and high degree of control over a dancer’s opportunity for ‘profit.’ ” Id. Therefore, “[t]he dancers are ‘far more akin to wage earners toiling for a living, than to independent entrepreneurs seeking a return on their risky capital investments.’ ” Id. (quoting Brock v. Mr. W Fireworks, Inc., 814 F.2d 1042, 1051 (5th Cir.1987)).

In the instant case, a Plaintiff’s only “opportunity for loss comes in the form of a ‘House Fee’ that she is required to pay for each shift, the amount of which ranges from $0.00-$30.00.” Docket No. 57 at 12. “All other potential risks of loss, be they food and beverage related or liability-related, are borne solely by Defendant .” Id. at 13. Similarly, an entertainer has no real opportunity to profit. At best she can “increase her earnings by taking care of herself, working harder, and enticing social interaction with her customers.” Id. The Defendant tacitly acknowledges that this was one way in which the Plaintiffs could enhance their profits. However, the Defendant refuses to acknowledge that this argument has been rejected by every court that has considered it. See, e.g ., Harrell, 992 F.Supp. at 1350; Priba Corp., 890 F.Supp. at 593. The Defendant also emphasizes that the Plaintiffs were allowed to advertise and market themselves by using MySpace, Facebook, and simple word of mouth. Docket No. 64 at 17. This may be true, but the simple fact remains that, like the club in Circle C, the Defendant is primarily responsible for drawing customers into the club. See Circle C, 998 F.2d at 328. Thus, the second factor also tips in favor of employee status.

C. The Plaintiffs’ investment in equipment or materials.

In Circle C, the Fifth Circuit noted that “a dancer’s investment is limited to her costumes and a padlock.” Circle C, 998 F.2d at 327. Although the court acknowledged that some dancers spend a significant amount of money on their costumes, the court concluded that “[a] dancer’s investment in costumes and a padlock is relatively minor to the considerable investment Circle C has in operating a nightclub.” Id. at 328; see also Harrell, 992 F.Supp. at 1350. “Circle C owns the liquor license, owns the inventory of beverages and refreshments, leases fixtures for the nightclub … owns sound equipment and music, maintains and renovates the facilities, and advertises extensively.”   Circle C, 998 F.2d at 327. Thus, this factor indicated that the dancers were employees.

The instant case is markedly similar to Circle C. The Plaintiffs “do not make any capital investment in Defendant’s facilities, advertising, maintenance, security, staff, sound system and lights, food, beverage, and other inventory.” Docket No. 57 at 14. The Plaintiffs’ only investment is in their costumes and their general appearance (i.e. hair, makeup, and nails). Id. at 15. Thus, as in Circle C, this factor tips in favor of employee status.

D. Special skills required.

The Fifth Circuit concluded that the dancers in Circle C “do not need long training or highly developed skills to dance at a Circle C nightclub.” 998 F.2d at 328. Indeed, many of Circle C’s dancers had never before worked at a topless dance club. Id. Other courts have consistently held that little skill is necessary to be a topless dancer. See, e.g., Harrell, 992 F.Supp. at 1351; Priba Corp., 890 F.Supp. at 593; Jeffcoat v. Alaska Dept. of Labor, 732 P.2d 1073, 1077 (Alaska 1987) (applying federal courts’ economic realities analysis).

In the instant case, the Defendant claims that although the entertainers are not trained dancers, they must possess special skills “in communicating, listening, and (to some minor extent) counseling” in order to be successful. Docket No. 64 at 21. According to the Defendant, an Entertainer must be a peculiar combination of a customer service representative and counselor: she must have excellent listening skills, the ability to read another person’s affect and discern from that demeanor his particular conversational or emotional needs, and the ability and willingness to fulfill those needs in a purely non-sexual way. Id. at 21-22. This argument is unconvincing, especially because nothing in the record indicates that the Defendant’s hiring process included an assessment of a prospective dancer’s communication or counseling skills. Having examined all of the parties’ admissible evidence, the Court is convinced that this factor indicates that the Plaintiffs are employees.

E. The degree of permanency of the working relationship.

The Circle C court noted that “most dancers have short-term relationships with Circle C.” Circle C, 998 F.2d at 328. “Although not determinative, the impermanent relationship between the dancers and Circle C indicates non-employee status.” Id. However, the court concluded that “[t]he transient nature of the work force is not enough here to remove the dancers from the protections of the FLSA.” Id. at 328-29. Thus, despite the fact that this factor tipped in favor of independent contractor status, the court was convinced that the economic realities of the relationship indicated that the dancers were employees. Id. at 329.

In the case presently before this Court, the Plaintiffs argue that the Defendant considered the relationship between the parties to be ongoing. See Docket No. 57 at 16-17. Thus, according to the Plaintiffs, their situation is materially different “from the limited-duration relationship typical to independent contractors.” Id. at 17. However, the Defendant submitted admissible evidence indicating that most of the dancers only worked at the Defendant’s club for six months. Docket No. 65 Ex. 6 ¶ 3. Thus, as in Circle C, this factor tips in favor of independent contractor status.

F. The extent to which the Plaintiffs’ service is integral to the Defendant’s business.

The Fifth Circuit does not include this factor in its economic realities analysis. However, other district courts have considered this issue and have concluded that “[e]xotic dancers are obviously essential to the success of a topless nightclub.” Harrell, 992 F.Supp. at 1352; see also Jeffcoat, 732 P.2d at 1077. Although the Defendant claims that no more than ten percent of its profits came from the dancers, and thus, “the Entertainers are not a vital part of its business,” Docket No. 64 at 24, this assertion is belied by the Defendant’s own deposition testimony. Manager James Nicholson stated that “[p]robably less than one percent” of the club’s customers go to the club solely for food and drink. Docket No. 58 Ex. 1 at 27, line 20. When asked what would happen “if the club limited the use of dancers at the facility,” Nicholson stated: “The same thing if McDonald’s got rid of hamburgers, all right? We wouldn’t be that business.” Id. at 27, lines 21-25; id. at 28, line 1.

The Defendant’s argument that the dancers are non-essential forms of extra entertainment, “like televisions at a sports bar” is simply unconvincing. Robert W. Wood, Pole Dancers: Employees or Contractors? TAX NOTES, Nov. 9, 2009, at 673, 675. Indeed, the Defendant’s own manager apparently does not believe this assertion. The Plaintiffs are critical to the Defendant’s current business model. Thus, this factor indicates that the Plaintiffs are employees, and not independent contractors.

Having considered all of the parties’ admissible evidence and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Defendant, the Lauritzen factors indicate that the Plaintiffs are employees.”

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