The California Supreme Court denied review of a lower appellate court decision in the class action of Chau v. Starbucks. The issue in the case is whether store managers, who as part of their duties also served customers, could share in the tips which were left for all servers. The trial court took the technical line that Labor Code section 351 prohibits any "agent" of the employer from sharing in tips. At the trial court level, plaintiffs won a $105 million award for restitution over the disputed tips for a four year period.
However, on appeal, this award was reversed. In a favorable ruling for employers, the appellate court took a more common sense reading of Labor Code section 351, explaining:
There is no decisional or statutory authority prohibiting an employer from allowing a service employee to keep a portion of the collective tip, in proportion to the amount of hours worked, merely because the employee also has limited supervisory duties. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and order the trial court to enter judgment in Starbucks’s favor.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the appellate court’s decision establishes that decision as precedent and binding in California. Click here for a more detailed analysis of the appellate court’s decision.
However, employers are cautioned to review the appellate decision (and obtain legal advice) before allowing managers to share in tip sharing arrangements. For example, the Starbucks ruling involved the situation where there was a "collective tip box" that "a customer would necessarily understand the tip will be shared among the employees who provide the service” and that the managerial employee is part of the team that provided the service.