When one thinks about Hooters restaurants, the immediate thought is not about labor law violations. But for 19 former servers at the Hooters in San Francisco, that is exactly their thought. These former Hooters employees began a class action lawsuit against the chain in 2010, and the class action was upheld by the California 1st Appellate District on February 21, 2012. The three main allegations the class brings forward are that the restaurant cheated them out of their tips, forced them to purchase their own uniforms, and failed to provide them with proper lunch breaks.
California law requires employers to provide a thirty-minute lunch to each employee who works more than five hours a day. If the employee is required to perform work during the lunch break, it is considered an “on duty” meal that can only be waived by a written agreement between the employer and employee.
California law also regulates when an employer can require an employee to purchase a required uniform. If an employee is required to wear a uniform, the employer must pay for it. As most people know, Hooters servers are required to wear the distinctive orange-and-white tank top and shorts. This is not the first time Hooters has been in hot water for this type of allegations. In 2009, two servers sued the company for forcing them to purchase and dry clean their uniforms without reimbursement, violating New York labor law.
Hooters claims that the case must be settled through arbitration, which would impose a mandatory settlement on both parties. Each of the former employees was required to sign a waiver of their litigation rights. However, the court ruled that the restaurant chain waited too long to try and demand arbitration. That means that this case could make it all the way to trial. Generally, when an employee signs an employment contract that specifies arbitration will be the only way a claim would be handled, a court treats that contract as binding. However, it is the employer’s responsibility to demand arbitration within a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, an employer could potentially face a trial, such as in this case.
Whether the case will actually make it trial depends on many factors, including whether the parties will settle out of court. Yet, by allowing this class action to continue outside of arbitration, the court has established a precedent for similar California labor law suits.
Read the original story in the Mercury News here.