INDIANAPOLIS — A former doctoral student pursuing his PhD at Notre Dame University recently filed a wage theft lawsuit against a South Bend, Indiana restaurant the plaintiff claims stiffed him and possibly hundreds of others out of all their due wages. The claim, filed in federal District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, alleges that the owner of two restaurants maintained an illegal compensation practice for servers undergoing training and orientation to work at the establishments.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff began training at Corndance Tavern in August 2016 after moving to South Bend to complete his doctoral program in philosophy. The plaintiff claims he worked 30.75 hours his first week of training but was only paid a meager $25 by the restaurant’s owners. Those wages did not include any tips or gratuities despite performing all the duties consistent with a full-fledged server.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), tipped employees must be paid a minimum of $2.13 unless a prevailing state minimum wage for tipped employees is in effect. However, because he received no tips, the plaintiff asserts he and other similarly affected individuals should have been paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all their time spent on the job.
Defendant Claims Employee Handbook Supersedes Federal Wage Laws
The case is a prime example of the lengths some unscrupulous employers may go to avoid paying workers all their hard-earned wages. In this instance, the restaurant owner claims the employee handbook issued to workers clearly states “the training pay is $100. You will receive your training pay after you have taken the test, and are on the floor for two weeks.“If you forfeit your training, whether you quit or we let you go, you also forfeit the training compensation,” the handbook states. “In signing this document, you agree to the terms of our training program, both duration and compensation.”
The defendant claims the plaintiff only worked three and a half hours on one day and was actually paid for bussing tables and not as a server trainee. Attorneys for the plaintiff say the case is clear cut and workers cannot forfeit their rights under the FLSA while undergoing training. The number of claimants could grow significantly if the federal judge hearing the case grants the lawsuit class action status to allow other worker at the defendant’s two businesses to join the case.
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