Melonie Coleman of Kingsport filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in July 2018 naming the Richani Restaurant Group as the defendant. RRG owns three Johnny Brusco’s New York Style Pizza restaurants in Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City.
The lawsuit was a collective action complaint and included 28 other former employees. It sought to recover unpaid minimum and overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
According to the lawsuit, when Coleman and other employees did not earn enough tips to reach $7.25 per hour, RRG failed to make up the difference. In addition to the pay issue, the lawsuit claims RRG required Coleman and other workers to spend more than 20 percent of their shift performing work that did not produce tips.
Both sides had been engaged in “arm’s length” negotiations, and a settlement notice was filed with the court earlier this month.
“We’re proud to recover wages owed to these servers,” said Nashville attorney David Garrison, who represented Coleman and the other employees. “It’s a problem throughout the restaurant industry that servers are not paid properly under federal law and we’re pleased to succeed on behalf of these servers.”
According to court records, RRG agreed to pay $30,000 to settle the lawsuit:
— $15,000 in back wages.
— An additional $1,000 to Coleman for being the representative plaintiff in the lawsuit.
— $14,000 for attorney’s fees and costs.
“We’re pleased a settlement was reached. It’s good for the workers and we hope this shines a light on a problem that’s too common in the restaurant industry,” Garrison said. “Employees know some basic rules, but with how wages are paid, it’s common for employees to not know, which is why these violations occur.”
Kingsport attorney Mark Dessauer, who represented RRG, had no comment on the settlement.
According to the complaint, Coleman worked as a server at the Johnny Brusco’s in Johnson City from 2008 to 2017, being paid $2.50 an hour. In an attempt to comply with federal law, RRG purported to utilize a “tip credit” for each hour worked by the employees.
For example, the tip credit for Coleman was $4.75, the complaint states.
However, Coleman claims that when she didn’t earn enough in tips to reach $7.25 an hour, RRG did not pay her any more than the $2.50 per hour. This took place on a regular basis, and as a result, Coleman claims she worked weeks without earning minimum wage.
In addition to the pay issue, the lawsuit claims RRG had a policy and practice to require Coleman and other workers to spend more than 20 percent of their shift performing tasks such as rolling silverware, stocking the refrigerator, chopping vegetables, cleaning the restaurant and game room, vacuuming and filling the salt and pepper shakers — none of which generated tips.
“By requiring employees to spend more than 20 percent of their time doing non-tip producing work, Richani has forfeited its right to utilize the tip credit in satisfying its minimum wage obligations,” the lawsuit states.