Chili's Restaurants Honcho Allegedly Paid Under the Minimum Wage, Workers Allege in Suit

Brinker International, the Texas-based multinational company than owns over 800 Chili's restaurants, is being sued for unpaid wages.

Nicole Augustine, a former waitress at a Chili's in Pennsylvania, says she and others were paid less than the state's $7.25 minimum wage when she worked at the Brinker establishment. The class action covers an estimated 100 employees who worked at Brinker restaurants between 2012 and 2014.

Restaurants can pay their staff less than minimum wage ($2.83 an hour) if their employees are making at least $300 a month in tips. They also have to apply a maximum tip credit of $4.42 an hour to fulfill their obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act. Augustine claims Chili's took advantage of the tip credit system while forcing servers to share their tips with expediters.

A Pennsylvania Record piece quotes one of the attorneys on the case, Peter Winebrake:

"The general theory on which this case rests is that restaurant owners are allowed to pay less than minimum wage and fulfill their minimum wage obligations by allowing food servers to earn and keep tips. If the restaurant allows food servers to share those tips with other employees who don't typically interact with customers—in this case expediters—they are not allowed to apply the state tip credit."

This isn't the first time Brinker has been sued over issues of wages. In 2014, it settled a 10-year class action that ended up making it all the way to the California Supreme Court. Workers claimed that managers had pressured them to skip their scheduled breaks by threatening to cut their hours. The California Supreme Court ruled that employers must provide 30-minute meal breaks for their workers. Brinker agreed to pay out $56.5 million to about 120,000 employees.

In June, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Brinker's "upbeat sales outlook," citing projections that sales would grow between 0.5% and 2% for the fiscal year.


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