Attorneys for upward of 300 servers at the six Chip’s Family Restaurants in Connecticut have won class certification in a case alleging the workers performed nonservice duties in addition to their service duties, but were not compensated for it.
At the crux of the lawsuit, which was filed in New Haven Superior Court in October 2017, are allegations the company paid workers $6.38 an hour for both service and nonservice duties, which violates the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act. It alleges servers worked between 30 and 60 minutes per shift sweeping, stocking, removing garbage and performing other nonservice-related duties for which they were not paid the state’s minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. The state allows for a $6.38 minimum wage for service duties because some restaurant workers can make up the difference in tips.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of named plaintiff Jacqueline Rodriguez, an East Hartford resident who worked for the chain from 2015 to October 2017. The class would cover servers who worked at the chain from Oct. 25, 2015 through March 1, 2018.
On Friday, Judge Carl Schuman granted class certification.
That ruling, plaintiffs attorney Richard Hayber said, should put other businesses on notice.
“In my view, this will make restaurants obey the law and pay at least minimum wage for nonservice work.” said Hayber, owner of The Hayber Law Firm.
Hayber said many servers do not know enough about employment law-related issues to pursue lost income.
“Servers are among the lowest-paid workers in our economy,” Hayber said Monday. “They are typically young and don’t always know their rights.”
In the 10-page ruling, Schuman wrote that the plaintiffs had made their case that servers performed side work, or nonservice related duties, on every shift at each location and that the workers deserved to be part of a class.
“The defendants dispute almost every aspect of the plaintiff’s case,” Schuman wrote. “What the defendants do not successfully dispute, however, is that every server has essentially the same claim. Although the defendants show that the type and amount of sidework varied from shift to shift, server to server, and restaurant to restaurant, the type and amount of sidework is not critical to the plaintiff’s claim. What is critical is that servers performed some sidework on every shift and locations, other than the tables and booths. The defendants do not present or identify any evidence negating that general proposition.”
The restaurant chain stopped assigning side work on March 1, 2018, soon after Rodriguez filed suit.
“The judge got it right,” Hayber said. “All servers are treated the same and all are made to [do] side work before they go home for the night. And when there is a common policy that affects an entire group of people, that is why class actions exist.”
Kevin Moore, a spokesman for George Chatzopoulos, the owner of the Chip’s franchises in Connecticut, declined to comment.
“Attorneys have advised us not to comment,” he said.
Representing Chip’s are Robinson & Cole attorneys Stephen Aronson and Nicole Mule. Neither responded to a request for comment Monday.
In court filings, the chain wrote: “The Connecticut Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the courts recognize a rule that permits employers to take tip credits where non-service and any questionable service-related duties comprise 20 percent or less of the service person’s total working time on that particular shift.”
The chain argued that servers failed to raise their concerns about their working conditions to management. It said, “The plaintiff and other servers working at Chip’s Family Restaurants were subject to employment policies that required them to contact the restaurant’s manager or other member of management if they had any complaints, including any complaint about their wages or manner of payment.”
Assisting Hayber was his colleague, attorney Thomas Durkin.