Update (February 7, 2107): The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral argument today in the case discussed here below last June. Counsel for Bunny’s Bar and Grill faced relentless tough questioning by the Minnesota Supreme Court and I predict that the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision (against Bunny’s) will be affirmed.
Original post (June 29, 2016): Who knew there was a Minnesota state law prohibiting employers from forcing employees to share gratuities (otherwise known as tips) that the employees receive on the job? (See Minn. Stat. 177.24, subd. 3.) Not the owners of the beloved St. Louis park establishment, Bunny’s Bar and Grill, apparently.
Todd Burt worked at Bunny’s for more than seven years but was fired in 2014 for refusing to share his tips. He sued Bunny’s for wrongful discharge. The Hennepin County District Court Judge (Thomas Fraser, J.) threw the claim out, holding that:
“the [Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (the MFLSA)] does not contemplate an action for wrongful discharge” and that “if the Legislature had intended for employees [to] be able to sue for wrongful discharge, it would have included that language explicitly in the MFLSA, as it has done in numerous other statutes.”
The Court of Appeals nailed the weakness of this argument, however, exacting a concession from Bunny’s lawyer at oral argument:
At oral argument, [counsel for Bunny’s] went so far as to argue that an employee who is fired for refusing to go along with an employer’s illegal policy—specifically, working for $0.25 per hour in violation of Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 1(b) (2014)—cannot sue for wrongful discharge under the MFLSA.
Not having any knowledge of Minnesota restaurant labor practices, I do not know how dramatic a decision this will be for the Minnesota restaurant industry but if there has been a widespread practice of ignoring the law with regard to mandatory tip-sharing, this week’s published decision could ignite a firestorm of claims in eateries across the state.