Surly Brewing Co. accused of illegal tip pooling

Court rules in favor of employees in tip-pooling case against Surly Brewing Company

MINNEAPOLIS -- A Hennepin County District Court judge has ruled in favor of an employee who filed a lawsuit against Surly Brewing Co. due to its tip distribution policy.

The summary judgment handed down on Wednesday determined that Surly's tip-pooling policy violated the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act, said attorney Steven Andrew Smith with Nichols Kaster Attorneys at Law. Now, instead of being a trial on liability, it becomes a trial on damages. 

"They're making the employees subsidize the wages of the non-direct service employees--your busers and your hosts and your bar backs," said Smith. "You can pay them less if you know that you're requiring your servers and your bartenders to have to divert some of their tips to those people."

Smith is representing James Russell Conlon, a former Surly bartender who filed the lawsuit in early 2016.

 "He brought a claim on behalf of a purported class of individuals who had their tips diverted illegally," said Smith.

Smith says the class of individuals includes more than 100 Surly bartenders and servers--people who've worked at Surly between the time it opened in late 2014 and the present.

Minnesota law prevents employers from enforcing a tip pool, but it does allow employees to organize a tip pool on their own.

Smith says he hopes the case will raise awareness about the law.

"Hopefully over time more bars and restaurants will realize that they need to leave that up to their employees," said Smith.

The dollar amount for damages in this case could exceed seven figures, said Smith.

KARE 11 reached out to Surly on Friday. A Surly spokeswoman sent the following statement:

"Surly generally does not comment on pending legal matters.  Nevertheless, Surly believes that it has fully complied with all state and federal laws regarding the administrative distribution of tips received by employees under Minnesota’s tip-pooling statute.  We note that there is no claim that Surly withheld any tips from its employees, and in fact, it has not.  Surly is working with its legal counsel to resolve this matter quickly and in a manner that is fair to Surly’s employees."

© 2017 KARE-TV


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