As many servers here in Indiana will agree, tips are the lifeblood of the profession. That's because most states across the nation, like Indiana, allow for a lower hourly minimum wage because employers in the industry assume that the tips received from patrons will offset the low pay and bring employees up to the state and federal minimum wage.
To further ensure that minimum wage is met, some states even allow for tip pooling or tip sharing, which requires that all tips and gratuities be pooled and distributed among service employees. But some servers in Massachusetts are challenging this policy after they claim to have been repeatedly shorted on wages while working for the Rainforest Cafe.
According to a class-action lawsuit aimed at Houston-based Landry's, parent company to the Rainforest Cafe, because of the practice of tip pooling with non-wait staff, the servers at the restaurant have repeatedly been paid less than minimum wage without being compensated with the difference by their employer. As a result, the lawsuit claims that the company is in violation of state and federal wage and hour laws.
In Indiana, an employer is required to pay a tipped employee a base hourly wage of $2.13 an hour. After adding in tips, it the employee is not being compensated at a rate equal to minimum wage, which is currently set at $7.25 an hour, then the employer must reimburse the employee for the difference. In this case, it appears as if Massachusetts has a similar set of laws that guarantee employees are receiving fair compensation for their service.
Though the class action has not been formally served at this time, the lawsuit has been filed on behalf of any wait-staff employees at the restaurant who have encountered similar wage complaints. It's unclear at this time when the lawsuit will come to a conclusion.
Source: The Houston Chronicle, "Rainforest Cafe servers bring class-action lawsuit against Landry's," Carol Christian, June 4, 2013