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Baristas Win Tip Battle with Starbucks

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A class of 2,500 baristas was awarded summary judgment in Boston Federal Court, in their claim that Starbucks doled out tips meant for them to supervisors, in violation of the state's Tips Law. 

The class includes baristas who worked at any Starbucks store in Massachusetts between March 25, 2005 and Feb. 8, 2011. 

Since the case was filed in 2008, Starbucks has claimed that its supervisors are wait staff, not managers. It claims that while baristas and shift supervisors are part-time, hourly-wage employees, store managers are full-time, salaried employees. 

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin rejected that argument, and recommended granting class consolidation and summary judgment on Feb. 8. 

"Starbucks' shift supervisors have at least some managerial responsibilities, and thus are not 'wait staff employees' as defined by the statute," Sorokin wrote in his report recommending summary judgment for the baristas. 

On Feb. 28, Starbucks objected to Sorokin's findings, writing in a memorandum that "The differences between the jobs of baristas and shift supervisors are not significant ... Importantly, neither a barista nor a shift supervisor has the power to compel obedience if a co-worker refuses his or her direction or request. " 

Starbucks said that it "has long allowed the money that customers leave in the containers positioned on the counters of every store to be shared by baristas and shift supervisors - but not by the managers with control over them." 

Nonetheless, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton adopted the magistrate judge's findings on March 18. 

"This Court finds Magistrate Judge Sorokin's analysis and statutory construction thorough and well-reasoned," Judge Gorton said. "Indeed, were the Court to hold otherwise, an employer could readily insulate itself from class liability simply by establishing a communal 'tip pool' for both managerial and non-managerial employees. Such an 'end run' clearly contravenes the purpose of the Tips Law."