Harvard Club of Boston Settles Lawsuit for $4 Million

The Harvard Club of Boston settled a class action lawsuit with its wait staff last week, according to a letter to club members obtained by The Crimson.

The letter, which was signed by the Club’s president Nicholas J. Iselin ’87, said that, pending court approval, the Club will pay a total of $4 million to the members of the class and their attorneys.

The Harvard Club of Boston, a private business that is not affiliated with Harvard University, is open to graduates of Harvard and other “selected affiliate colleges and universities,” according to its website.

The Club’s wait staff employees filed a complaint last November in the Suffolk County Superior Court alleging that the club charges its patrons a “Club Charge,” but failed to disburse the funds to workers, in violation of tip laws in Massachusetts. The complaint claims these service charges were collected “in lieu of a gratuity.”

According to Iselin’s letter, the club—which has a no tipping policy--responded to the suit by clarifying on “all member documents” that what it calls a “Club Charge” is not a tip or gratuity.

“While we are confident the Harvard Club did nothing wrong, we could have done a few things better to ensure strict compliance with the Massachusetts tips statue,” the letter stated.

The letter said that the Club’s Board of Governors weighed the costs of a potentially “protracted legal battle” and decided that mediation was its best option.

“Ultimately, settling the lawsuit was a risk management decision on the part of the Club and a thoughtful attempt to avoid divisiveness among the staff over the issues,” the letter stated.

Shannon E. Liss-Riordan ’90, an attorney for the workers, said that she could not comment on specifics of the settlement but wrote that the case was “amicably resolved” in an email to the Crimson.

Brian Lang, the president of UNITE HERE! Local 26, the union that represents the Club’s service workers, as well Harvard dining workers, said that he was not surprised by the outcome of the case.

“Just from the facts as I knew them, I was very confident that the workers were going to prevail,” Lang said. “I’m pleased for the workers.”

Workers involved in the lawsuit were asked by attorneys not to comment on the case.

Lang said that the Massachusetts tip law, which has been imperiled in recent legislative battles, is crucial in the protection of service workers he represents.

“Thank god we have a strong law in Massachusetts that allows workers to get the money that gets ripped off from them by unscrupulous employers,” Lang said. “There are elected officials who don’t understand the importance of protecting this law—this is a good example of why that law is important to have.”

A spokesperson for the Club could not be reached for comment.

Its recently settled lawsuit is not the first time the Club has found itself in hot water for its relations with workers. Last Oct., the Club received a citation from the National Labor Relations Board for negotiating a contract “in bad faith.” The club and its workers came to an agreement on a new contract in early March after ten months of negotiations.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

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