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Court sides with Starbucks against their baristas in hard-earned tips lawsuit

Across the country, food service workers are becoming continually upset over the practice of tip pooling, claiming their employers are unfairly divvying out their hard-earned tips.

Recently, a group of New York Starbucks baristas tried to make that case, but the state’s highest court sided with the coffee chain.

The baristas argued that, as managers, their shift supervisors should not be privy to the tips left behind by their customers. The New York Court of Appeals disagreed and issued guidelines that the work of shift supervisors was similar enough to the work of servers to qualify them for their share of the tips, even if they had some supervisory authority. The case has been sent to the Second Circuit for the final ruling.

Despite consistently being among Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For, Starbucks pays baristas still only earn an average of $8.80 an hour, and shift supervisors earn about $11 an hour. State laws usually ban managers from sharing in tips, but Starbucks has been hit with multiple lawsuits because of the vagueness of its shift supervisor position.

Shift supervisors are part-time and hourly employees who serve customers and have no hiring or firing authority, but they also oversee and instruct baristas. The law has a tough time with jobs that seemingly fall in the middle of two types of jobs.

Baristas’ attorney claims exploitation by Starbucks

Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney representing the baristas, believes that Starbucks is exploiting this ambiguity in order to offset supervisors’ wages with tips.

“It’s a fight about who will pay part of the supervisors’ wages,” says Liss-Riordan. “Will it be Starbucks, which has a lot of money? Or will it be baristas, the lowest-level employee, where every penny of their tips is an important part of their wages?”

Liss-Riordan won a similar case in Massachusetts last year that disqualified shift supervisors’ from earning tips. After the win Starbucks increased their starting wage from $11 to $13.89 an hour, according to the labor group, The Industrial Workers of the World Starbucks.

A San Diego judge sided with baristas in a similar suit from 2008, that ordered Starbucks to pay back more than $100 million in tips to coffee servers. The following year, Starbucks won on appeal, when the court concluded that the supervisors “essentially perform the same job as baristas.”

A group of Starbucks assistant managers in New York also sued. But the New York court seemed unconvinced, ultimately stating that a person should be disqualified from tips if they have “meaningful or significant authority over subordinates.”

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