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Supreme Court recognizes employees' right to sue for wages

Many people in Michigan work in restaurants, so they know that tips can be a really important source of income for people who work in the hospitality industry. Restaurants typically do not pay servers very much because they know they are taking home gratuities.

But that justification for paying lower-than-legal wages does not hold as much water when the person is doing tasks that do not generate tips, so for the time spent doing tasks, should employees be paid higher wages? That is the employment law question that the Supreme Court recently said could go to trial.

An Appleebee's employee led the charge for 5,500 current and former waiters and bartenders who had worked at the restaurant chain. The former Applebee's employee said that Applebee's factored tips into their wages and so paid them less than minimum wage. However, the plaintiffs say they spent a lot of time doing work that did not generate tips, such as opening and closing duties, restocking and cleaning. They claim that for that time, they should be paid minimum wage because they had no opportunity to earn tips.

Applebee's had asked a lower court to dismiss the complaint, but the court declined. Whether the plaintiffs could continue with their suit made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with the employees and refused Applebee's request to dismiss the complaint.

This does not mean the issue of whether the employees should have been paid more for non-tipped work has been decided. It simply means it can be decided. We will report on any interesting developments that come in the future.

Source: USA Today, "Supreme Court lets tipped employees sue for more pay," Jan. 17. 2012

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