In what seems to be a concerning trend, two more St. Louis restaurants are being sued for tip pooling, just like Home Wine Kitchen and Table. This time, one Larry Payne is suing Carmelo and Frank Gabriele, owners of Giovanni's on the Hill and Il Bel Lago for illegal tip pooling.
Gabriele tells us that Payne worked at Il Bel Lago and only for eight months, but he's bringing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the other employees affected and is represented by the same lawyer suing Cassy Vires.
"During the relevant time periods preceding this action, Defendants have required their tipped employees to participate in unlawful tip pooling practice whereby the tipped employees are required to share their tips with the managers of the restaurants," the suit reads.
It's almost identical to the one filed against Home Wine Kitchen; the same lawyer, Russ Riggan, is spearheading both efforts. Riggan says this type of lawsuit is not uncommon in large metropolitan areas like New York or Los Angeles, and they are slowly making their way across the country.
"I think a lot of the restaurant employers around here have kind of gotten a free pass, to the extent that they may be violating the law. We handle quite a few of these cases, so they're gaining momentum," Riggan tells us. "The law is not new. It's like anything else -- word kind of gains momentum, people figure out that they're not being paid correctly."
Saint Louis University Law School professor Marcia McCormick, who specializes in employment law, says tip-pooling lawsuits aren't terribly common because there isn't a lot of money to be made in them. But she agrees that it is becoming somewhat of a trend.
"Recently there has been a lot of organization around minimum wage, especially low-wage restaurant work. This might be another aspect of that," McCormick says. "People are finding out they have rights, and tip-pooling arrangements have been irritating to people even if they didn't know they were illegal."
There are legal tip-pooling arrangements, according to the Department of Labor, but both the lawsuits against Il Bel Lagoago and Home Wine Kitchen allege that tips were shared with managers, which is usually not OK. McCormick says the only big-time litigation she can think of in this area was against Starbucks in 2012 for forcing employees to share tips with shift managers.
Gabriele directed us to his attorney, who did not answer phone or e-mails over the last few days. Read Larry Payne's full suit:
Here's the Department of Labor's fact sheet for tipped employees: