An employee of Zen Asian Fusion earlier this month sued the West Ashley restaurant for requiring servers and bartenders to contribute a portion of their tips “to the house.”
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, tips are the sole property of the tipped employees. Sharing arrangements are allowed, but it’s illegal to create a tip pool which includes employees who don’t customarily receive tips, such as chefs or dishwashers, or the restaurant’s owners.
“It’s harder to earn a living when the employer is skimming tips,” says attorney Marybeth Mullaney, who’s representing Logan Carbone in the lawsuit.
A woman who answered the phone at Zen said, “We prefer not to get into any publicity until it’s settled and we’ll see how we want to handle it.” Owners Cindy Alfredson, Rong A Zhou and Mei Zheng, who are named as defendants, did not return a message seeking further comment.
UPDATE: The restaurant’s attorney, Allan Holmes, e-mailed a response on Monday afternoon. “There is no ‘skimming of tips,’ and the restaurant has not, and does not, require servers to ‘contribute a portion of their tips to the house’,” he writes. “As you know, this is America, and anyone can allege anything in a complaint. It will be up to the court to determine the facts.”
According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Carbone has worked as a server and bartender at Zen since 2014. As a server, he was required to tip out the busboys and bartenders, as well as give the cash equivalent of 4.5 percent of his total sales to the owners. When he was bartending, he was required to donate a certain percentage of his alcohol sales.
The lawsuit claims the collected tips were used to pay the kitchen staff’s hourly wages.
Mullaney says Carbone was uncomfortable with the arrangement from the start, but delayed suing until he’d finished school and lined up a full-time job in his field.
“He has no ill will toward the owners,” she says. “He wants the business to continue to be profitable, but not at the employees’ expense. He just wants to be paid fairly.”