Servers at Buffalo Wild Wings in North Charleston were regularly made to clock out when the restaurant closed at 2 a.m., even though their shifts didn’t end until they’d spent additional hours cleaning up after the bar crowd, according to a lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court.
“As you can imagine, bars get pretty dirty,” says attorney Scott Falls, who’s representing former employee Michelle Corominas. “Beers are spilled everywhere, and there’s vomit in the bathroom. Managers were going around and clocking out (employees), and they were having to stay and mop floors and not being paid at all. You can’t do that.”
The lawsuit alleges the restaurant further violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by assessing illegal breakage and silverware loss fees; failing to pay overtime wages and requiring workers to attend unpaid meetings.
A spokeswoman for Buffalo Wild Wings, a Minneapolis-based chicken wing chain with more than 1000 locations, referred questions to local franchisee, ACI Group. In a separate lawsuit, ACI is also the subject of a wrongful death claim arising from the Summerville location allegedly serving alcohol to a teenager who later that night was involved in a fatal hit-and-run.
Shawn Steadman of low + tritt, ACI’s advertising firm, responded on behalf of the company. Steadman declined to commment on pending litigation as a matter of policy, but added, “We have never condoned any ‘theft’ of wages as has been alleged. We value our employees and strive to provide an excellent working environment.”
In South Carolina, the minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 an hour. But employers can only claim the tip credit if a specific set of criteria is satisfied: For example, the arrangement is invalid if the employee doesn’t receive sufficient tips to bring his or her pay to $7.25 an hour, or if the employee is forced to contribute to a tip pool that includes cooks, dishwashers or other workers who don’t customarily receive tips.
Additionally, if employees are required to devote more than 20 percent of a shift to untipped work, such as rolling silverware and making tea, they must be paid the full minimum wage while performing those duties. At Buffalo Wild Wings, servers were allegedly required to spend an hour before each shift and two or more hours after each shift scrubbing toilets, taking out the trash and deep-cleaning the bar, among other tasks. According to the lawsuit, compensation for that time was improperly calculated at the tipped minimum wage rate, and in some cases withheld entirely.
The lawsuit further claims that servers were underpaid because off-clock hours weren’t counted toward overtime, and because the restaurant docked servers for customer walkouts and missing silverware. Employers are not permitted to impose deductions that result in employees making less than minimum wage.
“Charleston has a very big wage theft problem,” Falls says. “We’ve seen the Department of Labor come in and fine restaurant after restaurant after restaurant.”
“Some of these laws with tips and stuff, people don’t understand them,” Falls adds. “I think the more they learn about it, the more they learn they’re being done wrong.”