A class action lawsuit against Applebee’s can rely on a federal agency’s unofficial interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, an appeals court ruled Thursday.
The lawsuit, by 5,543 current and former servers and bartenders, claims those workers were forced to perform tasks for which they couldn’t collect tips.
The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t spell out how to treat tipped workers who spend a portion of their time doing such tasks as dishwashing or wrapping silverware in napkins, for which they can’t collect tips. But the U.S. Department of Labor has issued guidelines setting the maximum allowable amount of such work at 20 percent of tipped workers’ shifts.
In 2009, U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey, of the federal court in Jefferson City, OK’d the use of the 20 percent guideline in the case. Applebee’s appealed the decision, arguing the 20 percent limit was merely an unofficial guideline, not binding law.
In an opinion Thursday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Department of Labor’s guideline was “a reasonable interpretation of the regulation” and should be followed by the courts.
The case is Gerald Fast et al. v. Applebee’s International Inc., 10-1725.