Trial Court Judgment in Class Action Alleging Starbucks Violated Labor Code by Sharing Tips with Shift Supervisors Required Reversal because California Law does not Prohibit Starbucks’ Shift Supervisors from Sharing in Tips California State Court Holds
Plaintiff filed a class action against Starbucks alleging violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Labor Code; the class action complaint alleged that Starbucks alleged shift supervisors to participate in tip pools in violation of California law, specifically Labor Code section 351. Chau v. Starbucks Corp., 174 Cal.App.4th 688 (Cal.App. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. The trial court certified the litigation as a class action, id., at 2. Starbucks moved to decertify the class, but the motion was denied. Id., at 6. Prior to trial, the court granted plaintiff’s in limine motion to exclude evidence that shift supervisors serve customers, finding that such evidence was “irrelevant” (though it did allow some evidence on the matter). Id., at 7. Ultimately, the trial court awarded the class $86 million as restitution based on its finding at the conclusion of a bench trial that plaintiff had proved the UCL claim. Id., at 2. Starbucks appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that Starbucks’ tip sharing policy did not violate California law: “The applicable statutes do not prohibit Starbucks from permitting shift supervisors to share in the proceeds placed in collective tip boxes.” Id. The Court explained that the tip-pooling practice challenged by the class action “concern[ed] an employer's authority to require equitable allocation of tips placed in a collective tip box for those employees providing service to the customer.” Id., at 2-3. The appellate court held at page 3, “There is no decisional or statutory authority prohibiting an employer from allowing a service employee to keep a portion of the collective tip, in proportion to the amount of hours worked, merely because the employee also has limited supervisory duties.” Accordingly, it reversed the trial court judgment.
Starbucks’ thousands of stores are staffed by baristas, shift supervisors, assistant store managers, and store managers. Chau, at 3. The Court of Appeal explained the differences between the store employees as follows: “Baristas are entry-level, part-time hourly employees responsible for customer service related tasks, such as working the cash register and making coffee drinks. Shift supervisors are also part-time hourly employees who perform all the duties of a barista, but are also responsible for some additional tasks, including supervising and coordinating employees within the store, opening and closing the store, and depositing money into the safe. A barista is eligible for promotion to shift supervisor after six months on the job. A store manager is a full-time salaried employee, and has the authority to recruit, hire, promote, transfer, schedule, discipline, and terminate baristas and shift supervisors. In some stores, a store manager is assisted by an assistant store manager, who is also a fulltime salaried employee.” Id., at 3-4. At trial, Starbucks introduced evidence that shift supervisors spend 90-95% of their time “performing the same jobs as baristas,” and that they had “no authority to hire, discipline, or terminate baristas.” Id., at 8. Moreover, shift supervisors are not considered “management” by the company, id. The trial court ruled against Starbucks because it found that shift supervisors “‘supervise’ and ‘direct’ the acts of other employees,” and that they were barred by California law to share in tip pools. Id., at 8-9.
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