Once again, reality is stranger than fiction. You just can’t make this stuff up.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett has ordered Starbucks to pay its California baristas (coffee servers) $86 million, plus interest, for using some of its employees’ tips to pay shift supervisors. A plaintiffs attorney in the case said the total judgment will exceed $100 million. The latest ruling follows a ruling last month that the company was liable for shairng tips with managers such as shift supervisors. California’s tip-pooling law says that gratuities meant for hourly workers can’t be taken by an employer or its "agents" — and Cowett found that Starbucks supervisors were "agents."
And to think that I recently suggested to my son who is in college in California that Starbucks would be a good place to get a part-time job. My nephew had a good experience working as a barista in New Jersey as a college student, but then he went on to bigger and better things at Best Buy and now as an intern in what’s left of Wall Street.
Starbucks has vowed to appeal. Since some of those supervisors are probably designated as "management" mainly in order to avoid paying them overtime, that makes sense. I am reminded of how my son’s girlfrend was promoted to "assistant manager" of a fast food place when she was a junior in high school, realizing only later that it was how they avoided paying her overtime.
As a trial lawyer, I hate to say that any lawsuit is frivolous and abusive, but that’s how this one strikes me. The biggest difference between baristas and shift supervisors is the wording on the name tag. A lot of them are young folks in school or just out of school, working there while looking for a career job. Hitting Starbucks for $100 million because they included shift supervisors in the split of the tip jar doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The next time you dump your change in the tip jar after getting your Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino, remember this mess. Personally, I have never mastered the vocabulary of the Starbucks menu. (What the heck is "venti" anyway? I just want a regular cup of coffee.) It’s pretty good, but I don’t know that it’s that much better than the "jailhouse coffee" that used to be served up by jail "trustees" and bailiffs who called all the lawyers "Colonel" in ten gallon urns in witness rooms, a few steps from the courtrooms that still had spittoons in the jury box. That jailhouse coffee didn’t get a lot of points for yuppie style, but it sure would wake you up and put hair on your chest.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck and bus accidents. Click here for a free consultation with no obligation.