S.D.N.Y. Grants Conditional Certification and Court-Authorized Notice to Tipped Employees against Ruby Tuesday Restaurants

 

On June 11, 2013, the U.S. Federal Court (S.D.N.Y.) granted conditional certification and court-authorized notice to potential class members in Guttentag v. Ruby Tuesday, Inc. In so granting, the Court opened the door to future class action litigation for Tipped Employees against Ruby Tuesday Restaurants.

Guttentag v. Ruby Tuesday, Inc. arose from claims brought by Michael Guttentag and Steven Reeves (“Plaintiffs”) in U.S. Federal Court that Ruby Tuesday, Inc. (“Defendants”) has a nationwide policy whereby its bartenders, servers and food runners (collectively “tipped employees”) are required to work and yet not enter some of the time they worked into the Defendant’s time keeping system. Plaintiffs bring a collective action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated to recover all unpaid wages pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as New York and Florida State Laws. The instant motion seeks a conditional class certification of the following nationwide class: “All current and former Tipped Employees who have worked for the Defendant within the statutory period covered by the Complaint and elect to opt-in to the action.”

The Plaintiffs are residents of New York that were employed by Ruby Tuesday restaurants located in New York and Florida as runners, bartenders and servers. The Defendant is a Georgia corporation that owns and operates approximately 750 Ruby Tuesday restaurants throughout the United States with its headquarters located in Maryville, Tennessee. The Plaintiffs specifically alleged that the Defendant maintains a strict company-wide labor scheduling system and staffing guideline that prohibits overtime work and that the employees’ hours are carefully monitored from Defendants’ headquarters. As a result of such policies, Tipped Employees are forced to work “off the clock,” (before and after their recorded shifts) to complete all of the required tasks set forth in the uniform checklists that are distributed throughout Defendant’s restaurants and to which they are required to adhere.

The Defendants argued against conditional certification by simply claiming that the Plaintiffs’ proposed nationwide class is too large and diverse to be certified based on the evidence from too few restaurants, as the Defendant has employed 115,009 individuals during the three-year period preceding this lawsuit in 710 restaurants in 39 states.

The U.S. Federal Court still granted conditional certification despite this argument by the Defendant. In so granting, the Court emphasized that when courts deny conditional certification of a nationwide class, they do so because the Plaintiff made no factual showing of a nationwide policy that is relevant to their allegations. That was not the case here. The Plaintiffs showed “that the Defendant maintains uniform job descriptions for all bartenders, servers, and food runners, as well as uniforms task checklists for servers, bartender and managers, throughout its restaurants” and evidence exists that the Defendants have a companywide policy of prohibiting overtime work through its centralized staffing and labor budget management system.

In sum, the Court was obligated to approve the conditional certification because the Plaintiffs claims showed that the Defendant has a nationwide policy that may affect the Plaintiffs and many others like themselves. As Judge Harold Baer, Jr. stated “At this stage, nothing more is required.”

The New York City Employment Lawyers at Fitapelli & Schaffer have successfully represented many Restaurant and other service workers for unpaid wages including Minimum Wage, Overtime and Tips.