Roussell v. Brinker Int’l, d.b.a. Chili’s

Along with the law firms of Bruckner Burch and Shellist Lazar, GBDH represents 55 Food Servers employed by Chili’s Restaurants who were forced to share tips with Quality Assurance/Expeditors (“QAs”) as part of an illegal tip pool. (Roussell v. Brinker Int’l, Inc., No. 4:05-cv-03733 in federal court in Houston, Texas).  This tip pool arrangement violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) because QAs as an occupation were not eligible to participate in mandatory tip pools due to the lack of customer interaction, customer service duties, and industry custom of tip pool participation by QAs.  Furthermore, the plaintiffs were coerced into sharing tips with QAs and thus, did not participate in a voluntary tip pool.

Prior to trial, the Court adopted plaintiffs’ proposed standard for voluntariness in the context of tip pooling, which was the standard used by the Department of Labor.  In order to be a voluntary tip pool, the Court held that the sharing of tips had to occur free from any coercion whatsoever.  See 2008 WL 2714079, *18 (S.D. Tex. July 9, 2008).   In other words, any management involvement, whether by requiring, recommending, or even implying that servers share tips with QAs, rendered a tip pool involuntary.

At trial, the jury was asked to determine whether QAs could lawfully participate in a mandatory tip pool under the FLSA.  After determining that the testimony of the 14 testifying plaintiffs was representative of the rest of the class, the jury decided that a mandatory tip pool involving QAs was illegal under federal law.  Post-trial motions are currently under consideration by the District Court in Houston.

On September 14, 2011, a unanimous panel of the Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury’s $271,878 verdict in favor of the 55 waiters and waitresses who worked for Chili’s Restaurants.

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