Restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday — remember it? — is in the news for one of the first times since pretending to blow up a competitor’s restaurant back in 2008, but this is for an even worse reason: A class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of every server and bartender in the last three years claims the company saves money by forcing them to misreport hours and work off the clock.
It’s technically legal for tipped workers, whose hourly pay is as little as $2.13 in some states, to spend up to 20 percent of their time doing non-tipped side jobs — anything beyond that and the government says they have to get the full minimum wage of at least $7.25. But Charlene Craig, the Tennessee waitress who first filed the suit, says a lot more than 20 percent of servers’ shifts are spent only making the tipped wage while working on menial tasks like cutting lemons, refilling ice bins, and rolling silverware. The suit alleges that the corporate culture encourages employees to deal with it: “The employees will say I’m just not going to clock in while I’m doing this side work,” Craig’s attorney, Chris Hall, tells the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Management knows. It’s kind of a wink-wink, everybody knows.” Hall adds other chains have tried this subterfuge before, because who wouldn’t “rather pay someone $2.13 an hour to do manual labor if you can”?
Ruby Tuesday denies the charges, and in a statement says it looks forward to its day in court, where lawyers “will be providing a vigorous defense of the company on this matter.” If the chain loses, workers from as many as 658 locations could be entitled to back pay of $10.24 an hour.
Applebee’s fought the last big legal battle over wages and this 20 percent rule. Its lawyers managed to appeal a suit involving 5,600 workers all the way up to the Supreme Court, but the justices told the chain it’s on the hook for whatever the lower court decides.