TGI Fridays workers file class-action lawsuit against company in Massachusetts, says restaurant chain forced waiters to give up tips, cooks to work for free; TGI Fridays declines to comment

BOSTON , January 17, 2014 () – Chain forced waiters to give up tips, cooks to work free, it says

Diners at TGI Fridays may be eating potato skins and bleu cheese burgers prepared by cooks who aren’t getting paid and served by waitstaff who don’t get their fair share of tips, local restaurant workers allege in a class-action lawsuit filed against the company this week in Worcester Superior Court.

Waiters and waitresses at Fridays were forced to give a portion of their tips to the host staff, according to the suit. Waitstaff make only a few dollars an hour and rely on tips for the majority of their earnings, whereas hosts make at least minimum wage.

Fridays employees who put in more than 40 hours in a week were also made to work additional hours off the clock, the suit alleged, meaning they were working for free when they should have received time-and-a-half overtime pay.

Such practices would violate Massachusetts labor laws, said Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer representing the workers. Violations like this are common in the restaurant industry, said Liss-Riordan, who has sued a number of restaurants over similar wage violations. Ruby Tuesday, for example, recently settled a case for $1 million over similar tipping allegations.

TGI Fridays declined to comment. The company, a subsidiary of the Minneapolis-based hospitality firm Carlson, has more than 900 stores around the world, including 18 in Massachusetts, according to the TGI Fridays website.

Carlson recently announced that is considering selling TGI Fridays, which claims to have invented the Long Island Iced Tea and originated happy hour.

It’s unclear how many workers could become involved in the lawsuit, Liss-Riordan said, noting that chain restaurants often have common practices and that the alleged overtime practices are illegal in other states.

Kimberly Brown, 27, of Bellingham, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she worked at TGI Fridays in Millbury and Milford from September 2009 to April 2011, first as a server and then as an hourly supervisor. She was asked to work overtime without pay a few times a month, but the cooks were expected to do it on a regular basis, she said in an interview. Managers would adjust their hours in the computer, making it look like a worker simply forgot to clock out after 40 hours, she said.

The waitstaff didn’t mind the unpaid overtime as much because they were still making tips, Brown said, but cooks, many of whom are immigrants and make between $10 and $14 an hour, lost a significant amount of money.

Managers would promise to give employees a “good schedule’’ and offer to buy dinner to make up for the unpaid work, even though they were already entitled to half-price meals, she said.

“They would just do it because they wanted to keep their job,’’ Brown said.

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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