Charlene Craig, a waitress at the Ruby Tuesday on Highway 153 in Hixson, has brought a class-action lawsuit that alleges the chain restaurant underpays its servers and bartenders for "side work" and has a corporate culture that encourages them to work off the clock.
Craig and other employees at Ruby Tuesday's 658 restaurants in 44 states were made to do side work, such as cutting lemons, filling ice bins and rolling silverware, while only being paid a server's wage of as little as $2.13 an hour - and not earning any tips, said a lawsuit filed Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.
Under federal regulations, servers and bartenders can spend up to 20 percent of their time doing non-tipped side work - but must be paid at least $7.25 per hour after that, said lawyer Chris Hall, of Hall & Lampros in Atlanta, which filed the class-action suit with Trief and Olk, a New York City law firm.
"She's doing a whole lot of side work," Hall said. "It's over 20 percent."
Ruby Tuesday restaurants are centrally controlled from the chain's headquarters in Maryville, Tenn., the lawsuit says, and the company's policies and practices encourage servers and bartenders to work off the clock without pay.
"A lot of times, the employees will say I'm just not going to clock in while I'm doing this side work," he said. "Management knows. It's kind of a wink-wink, everybody knows."
Ruby Tuesday said Wednesday it will fight the the class-action suit.
"While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we are committed to our Ruby Tuesday team members, and we will be providing a vigorous defense of the company on this matter in the appropriate forum," the company said in a statement.
Ruby Tuesday suit one of many
Craig has worked at the Hixson Ruby Tuesday since September, still works there and is protected from retribution.
"If you complain, they can't fire you for that," Hall said. "She had the same situation happen at Red Lobster."
The law firms that brought suit against Ruby Tuesday have created a website, www.rubytuesdayclassaction.com, that explains the lawsuit and encourages anyone who's worked in the last three years as a Ruby Tuesday server or bartender to join the class action suit. If the court determines workers were shortchanged, they could be eligible for $10.24 an hour, Hall said, or double the difference between the $2.13 they were paid and the $7.25 they should have gotten.
Ruby Tuesday is one of a number of restaurant chains that have been subject to lawsuits over employees' wages, Hall said, including Logan's Roadhouse.
"There've been a lot of chains, because they focus so much on labor costs, that have been sued," he said. "The reason there's so many suits, is because you'd rather pay someone $2.13 an hour to do manual labor, if you can."
The precedent-setting case was a ruling against Applebee's International that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2012 that said if a a server spends more than 20 percent of the time doing general maintenance and preparation work, he or she is entitled to full minimum wage. Applebee's International wound up paying $9.1 million to 5,680 people.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.