The Fourth District Court of Appeal in California reversed the $100 million award in a class action suit filed on behalf of current and former Starbucks baristas. The accusation? Starbucks illegally had shift supervisors share in tip jar proceeds instead of paying them a higher hourly wage. The appeals court ruled that shift supervisors are also hourly employees and not management, and are as entitled to tips as baristas. [Reuters]


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  1. kyle4 says:

    My friend told me this restaurant he works at as a server is doing this. He said he gets paid below minimum wage (50 cents beneath) and if he waits, which is rare, at the end of the day the tips everybody gets are split up with the house taking a cut. Sounds illegal to me.

    • tsume says:

      You really need to read the story though. The “house” isn’t getting a cut, an employee with nearly identical duties is. Starbucks themselves and the managers do not get any of this money. It sounds fair, legal, and reasonable to me.

      If the supervisor job were a desk job, it would be another story. Your friend’s case is totally different.

      • kyle4 says:

        @tsume: I’ll have to call him and check but I’m pretty sure he told me that they split the entirety of the tips amongst all the employees (or possibly just waiters) as equally as possible. He’s annoyed because he’s a server who doesn’t see the customers, and is losing money since he doesn’t get tips yet earns below minimum wage.

        • Corporate_guy says:

          @kyle4: The house taking a cut is illegal. And at any point if your average hourly wage falls below the minimum, the restaurant legally has to pay the difference. Even though they normally only pay like 2.50, in the end they still have to make sure your average pay is at least minimum wage once tips are added. Usually it’s not an issue since the volume of tips during busy times makes up for lack of tips during slow times. Pooling tips amongst wait staff is not illegal as long as the average wage is at least the minimum wage. It ensures no one gets screwed or rewarded based on the luck of where the customer sits.

          If he is a server who doesn’t see the customers, then how does he serve the customer? That implies he is not a server. Does he bus tables? And if he is in a job where he does not get tips, he has to get paid minimum wage. If he is being paid less than minimum wage he needs to report the place. Although how long has he been there? I believe you can get paid below minimum wage for up to the first 3 months of employment if you are under 21. The movie theaters by me hire students for the 3 months in the summer and get away with paying below minimum wage for the extra summer help due to the loop hole.

    • rhys1882 says:

      @kyle4: At Starbucks they take pool all the tips over two weeks and pay them out every two weeks proportional to the hours you worked. No one has to wait around for their tips and lose them if they leave before the end of the day and the house doesn’t take a cut.

      What the restaurant is doing to your friend is probably not legal. One, the house shouldn’t be taking a cut. Portions may get paid out to backwaiters, busers, and at some places the kitchen, but not the house. Also, your friend is entitled to his share regardless of whether he is there at the end of the night. If he is not there they have to set aside his portion for him to pick up later.

      • XTC46 says:

        @rhys1882: The way we distributed tips when I works in a food place was all tips got pooled, and every time there was a shift change, it got split.

        So if 2 people opened, we split when a 3rd mid came in, when the closers came in and the openers left, it was split again, and when the mid left and just the 2 closers were there, it got split again. That way you got money for the whole time you were there.

        Ive had friends who worked at starbucks, and all said they hate the tip system becasue the ones who work the early morning shift were almost always working harder than the mid shift, even if both worked a 6 hour shift, becasue of how busy the place was. More people = more tips, so they ended up working harder for less money.

        • Matthew Mcgee says:

          @xtc46 – thinksmarter on twitter:

          yeah, it’s busier in the morning…but the afternoon, evening crew has to clean up after the morning mess and also take apart every machine and clean them inside and out and prep product and basically do everything so that the morning crew has nothing to do but serve people…its called teamwork…anyone who ever worked for starbucks and had the attitude that they deserved more tips because they worked a busier shift never quite understood what it was to work with a team. sellfish individuals.

  2. Jim Topoleski says:

    Good. The ruling was bogus and the judge was inept. Shift supervisors where basically senior baristas who watch over the newbie employees, as Starbucks actually HAS assistant managers and managers (well in the case of assistants had, as they are phasing out most of them) who are salaried employees.

    It was like being a key manager, some of the day to day responsibilities of a manager, possibly set things up in the morning or closed things out at night, but none of the power of one and required to do the normal work that everyone else does.

    • henwy says:

      @Jim Topoleski:

      Amen. It seems the trial judge really screwed the pooch on this one.

      • Jim Topoleski says:

        @henwy: well what it boiled down to was semantics if I remember the case correctly. California has a completely different definition of what a shift supervisor is from the rest of the country and requires companies to follow THEIR definition rather than the normal one.

        • henwy says:

          @Jim Topoleski:

          You can’t help but think the judge must’ve been biased in a case like this where they try to screw someone with semantics. it’s clear what the law’s intent was.

    • chiieddy says:

      @Jim Topoleski: They still have assistant managers. They let go of 25% of them in the lower earning stores in order to consolidate costs but the ASM position is still considered a step to becoming a GSM.

  3. Megalomania says:

    In my experience “shift supervisor” is a non-title issued to just whoever is the current most senior employee on duty. It doesn’t mean that you’re sitting in the back room playing solitaire. That said, I feel that if you’re going to saddle someone with any sort of extra responsibilities that aren’t a ‘training for management’ sort of ordeal then you owe them a little extra at the end of the day.

  4. Corporate_guy says:

    Why would anyone tip at starbucks? Even if the law was broken, the tips had to be pretty small. 100 million dollars seems a little ridiculous for a few cents in tips.

    • SomeoneGNU says:


      I tend to leave the loose change each time I order – which could 70 cents, or even more, sometimes.

    • ryatziv says:

      @Corporate_guy: Very good question. Don’t really know.

    • TheSpatulaOfLove says:


      The tips salve the wound left by you looking down your nose at ‘those service people’ as you order your highly persnickety drink, then bitch about it not being right (because of course you ASSUMED they could read your mind).

      • Corporate_guy says:

        @TheSpatulaOfLove: I don’t like coffee, but it seems very very strange that people tip at a starbucks but don’t tip at say a wendy’s or a dairy queen. Are starbucks employees royalty that must be placated?

    • XTC46 says:

      @Corporate_guy: Not really, My friends would bring in a almost 100 every 2 weeks (when they were distributed) so thats 2600/yr per employee, thats 38.5k employees for one year, which I bet Starbucks has close to, and this was spread over multiple years.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @Corporate_guy: When I worked morning shift in a coffee shop during college & my MS, I made well over minimum wage, plus a lot of money in tips. I generally deposited my check, and lived off tips for spending money, only rarely needing to go to an ATM. People tipped because we knew them, they were regulars, so we knew what they were ordering, and had it ready & rung up before they got to the counter; we took pride in our service, even if it was just a coffee shop. When I worked with one girl who was also very service-oriented, the tip jar had to be emptied during shift! And it wasn’t uncommon to get $5’s. They even gave us extra at the holidays, and helped fund my MS research!

      Remember, you see these people day in, day out. You get to know them. We jokingly considered writing a memoir entitled “Morning Bartenders” when we left.

  5. H3ion says:

    The problem is the title. Calling someone a “supervisor” when they don’t have hiring and firing duties, etc. doesn’t mean that they’re in an executive capacity. Another misnomer is calling everyone and his brother in a bank or insurance company a “vice-president.” The title doesn’t really confer any authority. It does make a difference when you’re talking about overtime pay. Theoretically, executives are not required to be paid overtime pay but calling someone a vice-president when he is little more than a teller doesn’t make the person an executive and overtime pay would probably apply.

    • Sudonum says:

      Supervisors who have worked for me in the past did not have hiring and firing duties as they usually don’t know enough about the process to hire or fire without involving the firm in a lawsuit.

      I don’t remember how the CA law reads since it’s been over 10 years since I’ve worked there, but my supervisors duties usually just included assigning the tasks for their group or shift and monitoring their progress. If there was an incident that required disciplinary action they called a manager or HR and followed their instructions, usually a suspension, with pay, pending an investigation.

      As to semantics, usually someone in my employ who had a job description allowing them to deal with personnel issues had a title of at least “manager”.

    • OneTrickPony says:

      @H3ion: If you look at the article, it seems like the titling problem does not originate with Starbucks. It’s probably the courts and/or disgruntled non-lead baristas who brought the suit who are throwing around the term “supervisor.”
      The Starbucks spokesperson quoted refers to them as “shift leads,” which seems to be precisely what they are–not supervisors.

      After all, the lead dog on a sled team is still a dog.

      • H3ion says:

        @OneTrickPony: That’s right. A firm I know ran into the issue in connection with overtime pay. The question was whether certain employees were “management” and not entitled to overtime pay. The wage-hour laws set out some very practical tests and it was clear that a particular title didn’t matter; what mattered were duties and authority. A bunch of so-called management personnel were determined to really be non-management and entitled to overtime pay. It’s not an area I deal with but the issue seemed to be governed by some very practical tests. The client could have called its employees “king” and they still would have been non-management and entitled to overtime. It appears that the Starbucks issue is pretty similar.

        And unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes.

    • subtlefrog says:

      @H3ion: The coffee shop where I worked did give me, as shift supervisor, the right to write people up. I also managed the bank for that shift, and was responsible for the running of the store (e.g., when someone tried to attack my co-worker, I was in charge). I also got tips.

      But – there was also a very clear hierarchy between what I was, and what the asst manager and manager were, and where the lines were. There was no confusion. This was NOT Starbux, so perhaps there is a different delineation there. If you spell out the difference, this should be no problem – after all, you can’t ALWAYS have a manager on site, and someone needs to take the helm when the manager is gone.

  6. kepler11 says:

    why do employees at Starbucks get tips, while McDonalds employees don’t? Is it because they majored in English Literature? I’ll stick with non-fancy coffee, thanks!

    • XTC46 says:

      @kepler11: I tip the empoloyees at@H3ion: Title has nothing to do with over time. having a sttus of exempt, or non exempt does. I have worked salary positions where i am non-exempt, which means if I work 1-40 hours, I get my normal pay, if I work 41, I get 1 hour of overtime. exempt positions not get that over time, they just get their salary. There are also hourly exempt, which just get their base hourly pay no matter what (although ive never actually seen a position do that)

      Supervisor implies you supervise, not that you manage.

  7. Christie Williams says:

    My daughter worked at a couple of different starbucks here in oregon, she was not allowed to get tips at all. They were all “donations” to some organization.