Waiter won’t illegally share tips. Bar fires him

A waiter who was fired for not sharing his tips with bussers has won a round at the Minnesota Court of Appeals today.

After seven and a half years on the job, Todd Burt was fired by Bunny’s Bar and Grill in St. Louis Park after he was told by his supervisor to share the tips with people clearing his tables. Burt claimed sharing the tips violated state law.

State law does bar an “employer from requiring an employee to contribute or share a gratuity . . . with the employer or other employees.”

[A]ny gratuity received by an employee or deposited in or about a place of business for personal services rendered by an employee is the sole property of the employee. No employer may require an employee to contribute or share a gratuity received by the employee with the employer or other employees or to contribute any or all of the gratuity to a fund or pool operated for the benefit of the employer or employees.

This section does not prevent an employee from voluntarily sharing gratuities with other employees. The agreement to
share gratuities must be made by the employees without employer coercion or participation. . .

Burt sued the sports bar for back pay in a wrongful discharge but a district court judge threw the case out. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has now reinstated it.

The ownership of the restaurant claimed — and the district court agreed — that there’s nothing in the law to prevent the firing of an employee “who declines to participate in an illegal tip-pooling arrangement.”

Even the typically buttoned-down Court of Appeals seemed to drop its collective three-judge-panel jaw at that logic.

That, it suggested, would be like firing an employee for refusing to take a polygraph test because there’s nothing in the law making such a thing illegal that says you can’t fire an employee for not engaging in an illegal act.

“That an employee who is compelled to work under conditions violating the MFLSA [Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act] can sue for the amounts not paid by the employer as required by the statute, but if the employee refuses to go along with the illegal working requirement and is fired, the employee is just out of luck,” Judge John Rodenberg summarized in his opinion today. “That position is inconsistent with the plain language of the statute, the supreme court’s consideration of similar language in Nelson, and any common-sense understanding of the legislature’s intention in broadly providing employees a civil remedy for MFLSA violations.”

As for the bussers, the solution seems to be that they be paid a better wage.