Starbucks shift supervisors are entitled to their fair share of the tip pool that baristas enjoy, the New York Court of Appeals ruled today. You'll recall that in 2008, a group of disgruntled Queens baristas sued the popular purveyor of coffee and generic soullessness on the grounds that shift supervisors should not share in the tips, because they are paid more and perform certain managerial functions. But the law still maintains the baristas MUST share.
A lower court previously ruled in favor of Starbucks, which argued that shift supervisors are not managers (though they’re in charge when managers are away and can evaluate baristas in performance reviews) and are entitled to tips because they often do the same work as baristas. And the pay isn’t much better: In 2008, a Union Square barista told the Times she earned $10.03/hour after three years on the job, while a shift supervisor made $10.25, also after three years.
But one of the baristas' lawyers argued that there's no reason for shift supervisors to dip into baristas’ tips: "It's been argued that the shift supervisors do not make a lot of money and that somehow it's justifiable that they should share in the tips. That's just beyond ridiculous and, in fact, it's incriminating towards Starbucks. It puts the brunt of paying these people on the baristas."
Today's ruling, embedded below, sides once again with Starbucks, noting that "We cannot agree with [the baristas’] contention that even the slightest degree of supervisory responsibility automatically disqualifies an employee from sharing in tips... The [Department of Labor] has consistently and, in our view, reasonably, maintained that employees who regularly provide direct service to patrons remain tip-pool eligible even if they exercise a limited degree of supervisory responsibility."
In a separate decision, the court also ruled against assistant store managers who sued Starbucks arguing that they should be eligible for tips. (They're currently not included in the tip pool.) The court decided that the assistant store managers, who are one level up from shift supervisors, do have "meaningful authority" that justifies their exclusion from the tip pool.
The court did not say anything on the ethics of tip pooling in general—the policy of pooling tips has long divided servers throughout the restaurant industry. We turned to former waiter Christopher Robbins for insight.
"To the Section Shark, tip pooling may seem like a fool's game. Why would you let some slob take your hard-earned money?" Robbins, the president of the Retired Servers Union Local 442, said in an email. "But pooling tips makes you work as a team, and decreases the likelihood that someone is going to 'forget' to water the table you asked them to, or leave you high and dry when you're in the weeds. When one person succeeds, everyone succeeds. Until restaurants just start charging more for food and foregoing tips altogether, this is the best system we have."