Maru Sushi was initially applauded for its efforts to redistribute a service fee between front-of-house and back-of-house staff, but some former employees are calling the practice an illegal tip pool. That’s according to a new class-action lawsuit filed against the Michigan-based sushi chain, first reported by the Detroit News.
Maru Sushi operates six restaurants across Michigan including one in downtown Detroit and at each of those locations charges a 10 percent service fee on customers’ bills. Restaurant cards provided to patrons explained the service fee as follows:
Some of our co-workers (our chefs, hosts and dishwashers to name a few) aren’t able to share in our guests’ generosity, even though their contributions are just as vital to your experience at Maru. In order to share the love, we have instituted a 10% service charge — so please tip 10% less than you normally would...
The complaint argues that that the restaurants illegally required tipped minimum wage employees who earn $3.52 per hour to share a fraction of the 10 percent fee with employees who received the standard minimum wage of $9.25.
“Participation in the tip-share scheme(s) were/are a condition of employment and a requirement of continued employment with Defendants,” attorney Michael Hanna, who represents the plaintiffs, writes in the filing. “It was not an agreement entered into with the full, free and written consent of each employee. It was not obtained without intimidation or fear of discharge for refusal to permit the deductions.”
Maru has denied the claims that its service charge policy is illegal. In a statement to the Detroit News, the restaurant chain’s attorney Sean F. Crotty defended his client’s practices: “Maru values and respects all of its employees and is committed to ensuring they are treated fairly,” he says. “The service fee helps restaurants such as theirs to increase the wages of all the workers involved in the customer experience and is entirely in compliance with the law.”
The lawsuit was initially filed on November 30 on behalf of a former employee Kelsey Daoust. Three additional former Maru workers have since signed on to the suit, which is seeking compensation for unpaid wages lost during the alleged tip pool as well as legal fees.
Tip pooling and service charges are becoming more common, however restaurants have a complicated track record with following the rules on tip-sharing. The Fair Labor Standards Act considers tips “the property of the employee” and states that service charges are not a tip, but the Trump administration is considering changing the rules on gratuity. While the issue is complicated, the Department of Labor’s proposal does has some restaurant advocates concerned that the policy change could allow employers to pocket workers’ tips rather than redistributing them to staff. The public has until February 5, 2018 to comment on the proposed change.
• Former Employees Sue Maru Sushi Over Payment Practices [Detroit News]
• Trump Is About to Make Tip-Pooling Legal Again. Here’s What That Means for Restaurant Workers [E]
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