Iron Chef Masa Takayama’s Michelin three-star-rated restaurant, Masa Restaurant, has been sued by a former waitress who worked at the Manhattan restaurant and bar for over 12 years. The former waitress alleges that because an expeditor shared in the restaurant’s tip pool, the restaurant did not distribute the full amount of gratuities owed to herself and other employees entitled to tips.
The Complaint alleges that Masa created a tip pooling arrangement that unlawfully required its waiters, waitresses, runners, and busboys to share a portion of their tips with the expeditor. The job of the expeditor is to ensure food orders are cooked in a timely fashion so that all orders for tables are ready simultaneously and served while warm. The Complaint alleges, however, that the expeditors do not regularly and customarily receive tips as part of their job and are not otherwise entitled to share the tips of a restaurant’s food service workers or service employees. The lawsuit alleges that as a result of Masa’s unlawful tip pooling arrangement, which deprived the restaurant’s servers of their rightful tips, the restaurant was not entitled to take any tip credits under federal or state law and pay the servers a tipped minimum wage (currently $8.65 per hour in NYC in restaurants with 11 or more employees). As such, the restaurant was required to pay all of its servers at the full statutory minimum wage rate (currently $13 per hour in NYC in restaurants with 11 or more employees). In addition, the former waitress alleges that Masa failed to pay her minimum wage and spread-of-hours pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law.
Masa was previously sued in a class action suit in June 2009by a group of former servers for a similar tip pooling arrangement. The lawsuit alleged that the restaurant required the servers to share its tips with other non-service employees, such as sushi chefs. The servers argued that the tip pooling arrangement was illegal under the New York Labor Law because it was mandatory and included non-service employees to participate in the pool. Masa and its servers that brought the lawsuit eventually agreed to settle the dispute and the state court judge Saliann Scarpulla approved the settlement on May 21, 2012.