Boston-based Legal Sea Foods is facing two lawsuits alleging the restaurant chain violated state wage laws by forcing servers and bartenders to share tips with workers who rolled silverware in napkins.
Under state law, only those who serve food or beverages directly to patrons, or clear their tables, are eligible for tips, because they can be paid as low as $2.63 per hour, far below the state minimum wage of $8 per hour.
The lawsuits allege that by requiring the wait staff to share tips with workers whose only duties were rolling silverware, Legal violated the tips law and therefore owes servers and bartenders the $8 per hour rate.
The lawsuits were filed on behalf of more than 200 servers and bartenders at restaurants in the Prudential Center and Burlington Mall.
"One of the problems with a practice like this is that the employer is having one group of employees pay another to do their job," said Hillary Schwab, the lawyer representing the wait staff.
Legal Sea Foods chief executive Roger Berkowitz told The Boston Globe the "lawsuits are ludicrous and we will vigorously defend."
Rick Heller, general counsel for Legal Sea Foods, said the suits are taking advantage of a poorly worded tips law to create a separate job, silverware roller, which is typically done by servers or table busers.
He said at the Prudential location, the bus personnel, who normally get 10 percent of the tip pool, rolled silverware between clearing tables, not as a separate job, as the suit claims, and therefore were entitled to tips.
Both restaurants now have silverware rollers who don't get tips.
Both suits were amended last week to take advantage of the recently expanded minimum wage law that allows lawsuits to recover three years of back wages instead of two.
The suits seek back wages, interest, attorneys' fees, and a mandatory tripling of damages.
This article was originally published on November 28, 2014.