BW3 file photo

Bobcat fans cheer on a game at Buffalo Wild Wings in this file photo.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the company that owns the Athens Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, alleging that at least some of its tipped employees were underpaid.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two former Athens Buffalo Wild Wings bartender/servers, alleges that the company that owns the store, known as Lancaster Wings Inc., violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in at least four ways, largely relating to its tipped employees allegedly performing “non-tipped” work and not being paid appropriately for the work.

The lawsuit was filed as a collective action under the FLSA in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and notes that “all current and former servers and bartenders” who worked at any of Lancaster Wings’ Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Ohio can join the lawsuit for potential relief.

“Due to the defendants’ policy of requiring them to work while they were off the clock, and requiring them to do non-tip-related work on tip wages, plaintiffs and members of the classes (other bartenders/servers) were not paid for the time they worked,” the complaint alleges. “As a result, plaintiffs and members of the classes were illegally undercompensated.”

Lancaster Wings franchise president Larry Tipton said in a brief email response to questions from The Athens NEWS last Friday that neither he nor his company had received any “official notice” that they had been named in a lawsuit of any kind, so he was unable to comment about specific allegations.

“However, what I can comment on is that we at Lancaster Wings Inc, our locally owned franchise group, strive to always adhere to and exceed regulations and policies related to labor laws,” Tipton said. “Further, we strive to be a wonderful place to work, providing good-paying, high-quality jobs and opportunities for growth and advancement within our organization.”

The lawsuit alleges that plaintiffs Zachary Barton, an Athens resident and server and bartender at the Athens BWW from November 2012 to June 2016, and Ethan Forness, a Florida resident and server/bartender from October 2014 to February 2017, were paid “less than minimum wage” to work those jobs, were not informed of the tip-credit provisions of the FLSA, and were required to “reimburse” expenses to the restaurant from their tips, in alleged violation of the FLSA.

The lawsuit alleges that Barton and Forness, and other bartender/servers like them at Lancaster Wings’ Buffalo Wild Wings operations, were required to spend over 20 percent of their work time performing non-tip-related work that had no customer interaction and did not generate tips. However, the company’s alleged practice was to pay those employees at their standard tipped-wage rate (in Ohio, the minimum wage for tipped employees is $4.08 plus tips), rather than standard minimum wage ($8.15 an hour). It’s not clear what the employees’ standard tipped-wage rate was.

Examples of non-tipped work the tipped employees were allegedly required to do included: Cleaning bathrooms, sweeping and mopping floors; washing dishes; taking out garbage; cleaning the restaurant walls and tables; and portioning food.

The complaint explains that under the FLSA as interpreted by the Department of Labor, employers may not take the tip credit for time an employee is performing non-tipped work, and instead must pay those employees at the standard minimum-wage rate.

The complaint also alleges that the plaintiffs were clocked out on purpose by management yet still required to complete tasks relating to cleaning the restaurant after close (mopping the floors, restocking supplies, cleaning the bathrooms).

The complaint seeks a jury trial, and has a variety of claims for relief, including: Asking for other bartender/servers like Forness and Barton to be notified of the claim; for the company to stop its alleged “unlawful” practices; to pay any unpaid minimum wages and unpaid overtime to the plaintiffs; to pay any Ohio or national fines; and attorneys’ fees and costs.

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