Court Says Starbucks Baristas Must Share Tips With Supervisors

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 03, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A California court has ruled against Starbucks "baristas" in their class action suit to recover tips they had claimed were wrongfully shared with Starbucks "shift supervisors". This overturns a previous judgment requiring Starbucks to repay the baristas $85 million in allegedly unpaid tips.

The baristas in the case had argued that a provision of California's labor laws prohibited the shift supervisors from getting piece of the tip box pie because the law stated:

"No employer or agent shall collect, take, or receive any gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron . . . . Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for."

The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, saying that a shift supervisor is an "agent" who can't take tips left for employees (baristas). However, the court of appeals disagreed, reasoning that even assuming shift supervisors are agents, the law says nothing about them taking their share of tips left for both baristas and shift supervisors.

In reality, the shift supervisors' actual work was very similar to that of baristas (as much as 95% of their duties), and they didn't really have much disciplinary authority (they could only report misconduct to store managers). The court of appeals noted that shift supervisors aren't salaried employees, unlike "store managers". Shift supervisors are one step up from the standard entry-level baristas, who can get promoted from barista to shift supervisor after only 6-months on the job. Further, because baristas and their shift supervisors work as a team to provide service for customers, it would be misleading the public to have tips from a collective tip box go only to baristas.

It should be noted that a variety of laws at both the state and federal level can apply to determine whether an employee: a) qualifies for a tip; b) is properly receiving their tips; and c) is being paid properly despite receiving their proper share of tips. The links below provide more helpful information on wage and hour claims, and employee tips, specifically.

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