Starbucks Tip Jar: NY High Court Case To Decide If Shift Supervisors And Assistant Managers Can Receive Tip

Starbucks Coffee
Starbucks Coffee Reuters

New York's top court will be giving a verdict on the Starbucks tip jar controversy to determine if shift supervisors and assistant managers have the legal right to get a cut of the tip money left in jars.

The federal court asked The Court of Appeals to look into New York's labor law and define which employee is allowed to get a cut of the tip and which employee will not be allowed. 

There are three groups in the Starbucks tip jar controversy: The baristas, the shift supervisors and the assistant managers. The baristas, who serve customers, share tips amongst each other based on the hours they've worked. Shift supervisors, who have a managerial title but limited management responsibilities, also serve customers and share tips. Assistant managers do not traditionally receive gratuities, but believe they deserve it.

"The baristas work more on the floor," a barista in Manhattan told CBS Radio in New York. "Yes, managers do interact with customers but it's more the baristas who connect with the customers so they deserve the tips more."

"We all should get them, we should equally share them," said another barista to CBS Radio.

The Starbucks tip jar controversy has stirred up the issue of what exactly (or who exactly) qualifies as a company "agent" since this individual would be prohibited from receiving a tip.

"Starbucks has not seriously disputed that its shift supervisors are supervisors," argued attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan in her brief, which she filed on behalf of Jeana Barenboim, Jose Ortiz and any other baristas who oppose sharing tips with the supervisors.

But according to attorney Adam Klein, who is representing the assistant managers, the assistant managers spend just as much time serving customers and as such, deserve a tip.

According to Starbucks, assistant managers are not given tips because they are full-time employees, are salaries and are eligible and "rewarded with performance-based bonuses and other benefits not available to their subordinates."

The Starbucks tip jar verdict won't just influence Starbucks -- it will affect the entire hospitality industry and the 42,000 New York businesses and the quarter-million hospitality industry workers in New York City.

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