Gregory Curtis filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois on Thursday, alleging that while working at Graham Elliot, he was denied minimum wage and forced to participate in a shared tip pool with other employees, for example, cooks and food runners who weren’t entitled to tips.
The case states that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are allowed to pay less than minimum wage to employees who receive tips. To do so, employers may take a “tip credit,” which allows them to include the workers’ earned tips in their total wages.
Employers who use the “tip credit” to determine employees’ wages must inform employees that is how they will be paid as well as allow them to retain all of the tips they receive, except those included in a “valid tipping pool” among those employees who receive tips, according to the case.
Minimum wage in Illinois is currently $8.25, but $4.95 for tipped workers.
Curtis, who worked at Graham Elliot, 217 W. Huron, from April 2009 until February 2011, also alleged that Bowles knowingly paid him and other workers less than minimum wage and benefited from that.
During that time, Curtis earned between $4.65 and $4.95, the required minimum wage in Illinois during those years for tipped employees, but claims that he should have been earning the regular minimum wage of $7.75 to $8.25 because the tip pool he contributed to was “invalid,” as it was shared with restaurant workers who didn’t customarily receive tips.
Curtis is seeking back pay, plus interest for himself and other employees who join the suit. The case was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.
Elliot, who could not immediately be reached for comment, appears to have recently corrected the problem, according to Jim Zouras, the attorney for Gregory Curtis.
“It appears based on our investigation that this restaurant has changed their practice, so that cooks and food runners no longer share the tip pool,” said Zouras. “The problem is that they have not sought to reimburse everyone who was victimized by this practice, including our client.”