Lawsuit claims Charleston Bagel Co. stole tips from employees

(Tyrone Walker/Staff)

Café patrons often wonder what becomes of tips left on credit card slips and in countertop jars. At Charleston Bagel Co., according to a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court, the restaurant owner kept them.

Former employee Alex Drouillard claims Jolanda Mazzocchi applied tips to her operating expenses. Federal law expressly prohibits employers from taking possession of their employees’ tips.

“It wasn’t like at the end of the day they spilled out the cash jar,” Drouillard’s attorney, Marybeth Mullaney, said of the alleged Charleston Bagel Co. arrangement. “(Mazzocchi) was supposedly giving them their cash tip payout once a month. She never gave them anything that was left on a credit card.”

Mazzocchi did not return calls seeking comment.

Mullaney concedes that the amount of money allegedly stolen might not sound like much to business owners accustomed to paying five-figure bills. But “for my clients, it is a lot of money,” Mullaney says.

Drouillard, 18, was motivated to ask Mazzocchi repeatedly for the tips he’d earned. He started exploring the possibility of a lawsuit after being fired in February. Mullaney says it’s not unusual for victims of wage theft to keep quiet “until they get fired for a ridiculous reason.”

“They know they’re being cheated, but they’d rather have a job and be cheated than not have a job,” she says.

In addition to the tips complaint, the lawsuit claims Mazzocchi unlawfully shorted employees pay by deleting hours worked from the time clock.

“I hope people don’t become scared and don’t want to leave a tip on a credit card slip,” Mullaney says. “That’s why I need to file this suit: They need to be assured the money goes to the person who made their bagel, and doesn’t become a gift to the owner.”

To safeguard tips, Mullaney suggests customers ask the intended recipient whether he or she will get the tip. If the answer is no, “then maybe they should call the Department of Labor.”

Charleston Bagel Co. has locations in Mt. Pleasant and Summerville. Drouillard was employed at the Mt. Pleasant store.