Aspen restaurant targeted in class-action suit over tip pool
DENVER – A Fort Collins law firm has taken steps to launch a class-action lawsuit against an Aspen restaurant accused of running an illegal tip pool for its employees.
The Law Offices of Brian Gonzalez PLLC, on behalf of Sandro Torres, filed a complaint Friday in the U.S. District Court of Denver against Cache Cache restaurant and its owners, Jodi Larner and Chris Lanter.
The federal lawsuit aims for class-action certification from the court and seeks current and former Cache Cache employees “whose tips were diverted illegally” to participate in the complaint.
For now, Torres is the only plaintiff in the suit, which says he worked at Cache Cache as a back waiter and food runner from February 2004 to March 2008 and from January 2011 to April.
Under Cache Cache’s employ, Torres made less than minimum wage – $4 to $4.25. Paying less than minimum wage to regularly tipped employees is a standard practice in the restaurant industry. But for restaurants to take a tip credit against the minimum wage, they must adhere to state labor laws, which allow for tip pools.
By Colorado law, the suit alleges, the only employees who can collect from a tip pool are “front of the house” workers such as servers and hostesses. But at Cache Cache, such employees as chefs, dishwashers and food preparers – who were not regularly tipped – also participated in the tip pool, the suit says.
By doing so, Cache Cache violated the Colorado Wage Claim Act and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the suit alleges.
“The misuse of tips and participating of non-tipped employees invalidates the Cache Cache tip pool and nullifies (Cache Cache’s) entitlement to claim a tip credit against the minimum wage,” the suit says. “Defendants are liable for, among other things, paying a sub-minimum wage to current and former employees and for all tips diverted improperly.”
The suit also asks that Torres and other “similarly situated plaintiffs” be reimbursed for all tip credits taken against their hourly wages.
Gonzalez, who filed the suit, did not return a telephone message Friday seeking comment for this story. Larner and Lanter also did not return a message left Friday at the restaurant.
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