Who Is Getting Your Tip Money? It Is Time to Put Limits on Tip-Pooling.

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Who Is Getting Your Tip Money? It Is Time to Put Limits on Tip-Pooling.

Who Is Getting Your Tip Money? It Is Time to Put Limits on Tip-Pooling.

Please see the attached letter, which I drafted to send today to the California Supreme Court on behalf of the California Employment Lawyers’ Association.

Via First-Class Mail

April 29, 2009

The Honorable Ronald M. George, Chief Justice
and Associate Justices
California Supreme Court
350 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Re: Amicus Curiae Letter (Rule 8.500(g))
Lu v. Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Inc. (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 466, 88 Cal.Rptr.3d 345
California Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 3, No. B194209, Petition No. 171442

Dear Chief Justice and Associate Justices:

This is a letter under Rule 8.500(g) of the 2009 California Rules of Court in support of the petition for review by the Plaintiff/Appellant in Lu v. Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Inc. (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 466, 88 Cal.Rptr.3d 345, California Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 3, No. B194209 (hereafter, Lu). This letter, on behalf of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA), seeks to have this Court define the scope of permissible tip pooling. The Court of Appeal’s decision in Lu is just one of several recent decisions by Courts of Appeal attempting to define the parameters of permissible tip pooling without Supreme Court guidance.[1] Though this Court has discussed Cal. Lab. Code §351, the basis for the instant dispute (see Industrial Welfare Com. v. Superior Court (1980) 27 Cal.3d 690, 166 Cal.Rptr. 331, and Henning v. Industrial Welfare Com. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1262, 252 Cal.Rptr. 278), this Court has never weighed in on the extent to which employers may appropriate money given by customers to service employees as gratuities and distribute it to other non-supervisory employees.

California Courts of Appeal have long followed Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1062, 268 Cal.Rptr. 647 (decided closely on the heels of Henning), which ruled that enforced tip pooling between servers and bussers at a restaurant is permissible under §351. Leighton emphasized that the regulation states that a gratuity is “hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.” (Ital. added to emphasize the plural.) However, recent decisions have begun to extend the tip pooling concept beyond merely multiple service employees assisting a single customer at a restaurant table. Lu stretches the tip pool to sharing tips between a casino dealer (who directly received the tip from the customer for his/her service) and chip runners, hostesses, poker tournament and poker rotation coordinators, customer services representatives or “floormen,” and concierges. Lu, 170 Cal.App.4th at 471. CELA believes that the better-reasoned view is that tip pooling can only be proper, under the plain language of §351, between non-supervisory employees[2] for whom the gratuities in question were “paid, given, or left for.” Under §351, tip income must not be used by an employer to subsidize the wages of other non-supervisory employees who were not responsible for the service which caused the customer to provide a gratuity.[3]

I. Interest of Amicus

The undersigned writes on behalf of CELA, a “person” within the meaning of Rule 8.500(g), seeking to support the petition for review. CELA is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to protecting workers’ rights. CELA’s member attorneys represent employees in all types of employment cases in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies, including employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, wage and hour, and unemployment insurance matters. In each of these substantive areas of law, CELA’s members and their clients challenge employers who fail to adhere to California and federal employment laws. CELA frequently appears as amicus curiae in matters before this Court, including, e.g., recent appearances in Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094, 56 Cal.Rptr.3d 880, Gentry v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 443, 64 Cal.Rptr.3d 773, and Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP (2008) 44 Cal.4th 937, 81 Cal.Rptr.3d 282.

CELA’s members have an abiding interest in the scope of permissible tip pools, directly at issue in this case. In particular, CELA seeks to ensure that the concept of tip pooling is not abused so as to undermine employees’ property interest in their gratuities, guaranteed by Labor Code §351, and that the State’s wage and hour laws are “liberally construed with an eye to promoting [worker] protection,” as this Court required in Henning, 42 Cal.3rd at 1269 (citing Industrial Welfare Com’n, 27 Cal.3d at 700-703). CELA hopes that this Court will not permit an interpretation, like that applied in Lu, which results or could result in tips given directly to millions of California non-supervisory workers being misappropriated to defray employers’ labor costs with respect to other workers.

II. Review is Warranted

In Henning, 46 Cal.3d at 1279-1281, and Industrial Welfare Com’n, 27 Cal.3d at 729-731, the Court applied §351 to eliminate the practice of tip crediting, which had been used to pay service employees receiving gratuities less than the minimum wage, or a lower minimum wage than non-tipped employees. Part of the rationale for these decisions eliminating tip crediting and the two-tiered minimum wage was that “a lower minimum (which in itself is to provide an adequate) wage is only possible because tips are used to subsidize it” (see Henning, 46 Cal.3d at 1278, citing Industrial Welfare Com’n) – and employers should not be able to use tips (the property of the employees who received them) to subsidize otherwise inadequate wages. This Court discussed the legislative history behind §351, noting that the section, in its current form, was designed to prevent employers from “obtain[ing] the benefit (as, in effect, the payment of wages) of tips and other gratuities received by their employees,” and “from taking any tip given by a patron to his employee.” Henning, 46 Cal.3d at 1279.

The Leighton court discussed some practical difficulties behind this public policy, and held, pragmatically, that tip pooling cannot be prohibited in all circumstances, such as where servers and bussers are together working at a restaurant table. The Court of Appeal explained, in language cited by the Lu court and others:

“We dare say that the average diner has little or no idea and does not really care who benefits from the gratuity he leaves, as long as the employer does not pocket it, because he rewards for good service no matter which one of the employees directly servicing the table renders it. This, and the near impossibility of being able to determine the intent of departed diners in leaving a tip, in our view, account for the Legislature’s use of the term ’employees’ in declaring that ‘every such gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.’ (Lab.Code, § 351, italics added.) It is clear that the Legislature intended by this section to cover just such a situation.” Leighton, 219 Cal.App.3d at 1069.

However, the Lu court disingenuously extends this language to the present situation. CELA hopes this Court will recognize the difference between leaving a gratuity in a tip cup at a coffee shop counter or on a table at a restaurant, where it may be pooled between all the non-supervisory employees providing the service the customers received, and a tip given directly to (for example) a casino dealer working at a table alone, apparently to recognize him/her. In the latter situation, there is no need to divine the customer’s intentions – he/she is tipping the dealer. There is no reason to believe that the customer intended also to recognize chip runners, or hostesses (who are separately tipped), etc. This is not a scenario in which rejection of tip pooling would create counter-productive incentives for employees and workplace strife, as in Leighton, 219 Cal.App.3d at 1070. There, the rejection of tip pooling between servers and bussers might lead to tips being commandeered by the first person to grab them off the table, and infighting as a result. Id. Here, the dealer need not fight for the tips he/she is given or swipe them before other employees notice – the tips are given to or left for him/her directly, and no one else.

The casino simply wants to subsidize the wages of its chip runners and others who do not receive tips by giving them part of the tips earned by dealers. According to Henning, this is against the legislative intent of §351, because it is taking money out of the dealers’ hands and using it to keep down the employers’ labor costs. While CELA would certainly condone an effort to ensure greater pay for chip runners and other non-tipped employees, and they will need to receive greater wages to attract their labor, if they are not receiving portions of dealers’ gratuities, their pay should not come out of the pockets of the tipped employees – but from the casinos.

The plain language of the statute is that the gratuities become the property of the non-supervisory employees for whom they are left. “Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.” Cal. Lab. Code §351. Courts do not need to get into case-by-case findings regarding customers’ intent, which, as Leighton explained, can be vague. But it is safe to hold that, where tips are left in a tip cup or at a restaurant table, they are the property of all non-supervisors involved in providing the customer with good service – whereas, when tips are handed to a casino dealer or left at a casino table where a dealer is still sitting and where he/she is the only person working, the tips are the sole property of that dealer.

III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, CELA hopes this Court will not permit courts to follow Lu, allowing the spreading to non-tipped employees of gratuities earned by and owned by particular employees, designed only to avoid payment of competitive wages in the labor market. Please grant the petition for review.

Thank you for your consideration.


Bryan J. Schwartz
Bryan J. Schwartz, SBN 209903
180 Grand Avenue, Suite 1550
Oakland, CA 94612
Tel. 510-444-9300
Fax 510-444-9301
Email: Bryan@BryanSchwartzLaw.com
Website: https://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/

[1] See also, e.g., Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s of California, Inc. (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 875, 90 Cal.Rptr.3d 239; Etheridge v. Reins International California, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 908, 91 Cal.Rptr.3d 816.

[2] All courts agree that supervisory employees must be strictly excluded from tip pools, and CELA does not challenge the portion of Lu addressing this issue. See Cal.Lab. 350(a) and (d); Lu, 170 Cal.App.4th at 485-486 (citing Jameson v. Five Feet Restaurant (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 138, 141-143, 131 Cal.Rptr.2d 771).

[3] See Etheridge, 172 Cal.App.4th 908, discussing Henning and Industrial Welfare Commission (“Even though an employer can no longer use tip sharing to subsidize minimum wages of non-tipped employees, it is possible that an employer could use tip sharing to subsidize market wages of non-tipped employees, resulting in the same evil. Thus, when considering tip pooling, it is important to make certain that the employer is not using the tip pool as a de facto tip credit against market wages.”) (emph. in original). See generally id., 172 Cal.App.4th 908 (Klein, P.J., concurring and dissenting) (“The majority opinion here eviscerates section 351 ‘s guarantee that a gratuity belongs to the employee or employees for whom it was left. The majority opinion authorizes the employer to confiscate a portion of the gratuities left for servers and to redistribute those monies to other employees, so as to subsidize the wages of non-tipped employees, in accordance with the employer’s self-interest and priorities. For these reasons, the propriety and parameters of employer-mandated tip pooling warrant the prompt attention of the California Supreme Court or the Legislature.”) (emph. in original).

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