Case Studies

Epstein Becker Green Wins Dismissal of Servers’ Wage and Tip Claims Against Restaurant

On January 14, 2011, Epstein Becker Green helped one of its restaurant clients, the Brasserie Ruhlmann, obtain summary judgment "in its entirety" in a lawsuit brought by former waiters, bussers, and runners ("Plaintiffs"). Similar to many such wage and hour cases currently being litigated in the hospitality industry, Plaintiffs sought to invalidate the restaurant's tip pool with assertions that captains and the banquet coordinator performed managerial functions and, thus, were not "tip eligible." If Plaintiffs had succeeded, they would have also invalidated the restaurant's "tip credit" system of compensating service employees, potentially resulting in significant minimum wage and overtime liability. Plaintiffs made further claims for tips during their initial training period, alleged "spread of hours" violations, and alleged uniform maintenance violations.

In a sweeping 17-page Memorandum Opinion and Order, Judge Swain of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, found, among other things, that "captains and banquet coordinators had regular interactions with customers in connection with core restaurant functions." Accordingly, the Court held that the restaurant had properly treated the plaintiffs as tip eligible. After careful scrutiny, the restaurant's wage and hour practices were completely vindicated by the Court. Garcia v. La Revise Assocs. LLC, 08 cv 9356 (SDNY 2011).

Epstein Becker Green developed a strategy to elicit admissions from the Plaintiffs in discovery that, together with declarations and selected documents, provided the basis for Judge Swain's decision. This case resulted in a total victory for the restaurant and is the first reported decision to hold that the position of banquet coordinator was tip eligible.

This win was achieved by Epstein Becker Green's Labor and Employment Hospitality and Wage and Hour practice groups and, particularly, attorneys Douglas Weiner and Dean L. Silverberg.