UPDATED: Sept. 25, 2012, at 12:21 p.m.
Members of the wait staff at the Harvard Faculty Club and Loeb House filed a class action lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court last Thursday, alleging that Harvard had failed to distribute proceeds from service charges to the staff, thereby violating the Massachusetts “Tip Law.”
The filing comes just days after the wait staff of the Harvard Club of Boston settled a class action lawsuit, claiming that the Club had violated the same law, for $4 million dollars. The Harvard Club of Boston, a private business, is a separate entity from Harvard University, the named defendant in the Faculty Club and Loeb House workers’ complaint.
According to the complaint, Harvard adds a “surcharge” of around 18 to 22 percent to food and beverage bills. This fee appears to serve as gratuity charge to guests at the Faculty Club and Loeb House, who are told not to tip, the complaint alleges. Harvard uses that surcharge for operating expenses, and even when guests do tip, those funds do not go to the staff, according to the complaint.
Harvard Director of News and Media Relations Kevin Galvin said in an emailed statement to The Crimson that he could not address the lawsuit itself because the University had not yet been served with the complaint. He wrote, however, that Faculty Club employees receive wages that more than double the industry average, as well as benefits including health care, access to child care, paid vacation, and tuition assistance.
Shannon E. Liss-Riordan ’90, an attorney for the workers, said that regardless of the workers’ base pay, any surcharges that guests perceive to be a tip must go to the wait staff.
“The courts have been very, very clear on this,” said Liss-Riordan, who also represented the Harvard Club of Boston workers in their suit. “The law is pretty clear-cut.”
Liss-Riordan said that she has worked on cases like this one for the past ten years and that it is similar to many others brought against employers in the hospitality industry.
She said she was surprised that “there are still employers violating the law.”
Liss-Riordan said that while she does not know how the University will respond to the suit, the tip law makes it clear that the workers should have received the funds in question.
“I think it would be in Harvard’s interest to resolve this quickly,” she said.
Brian Lang, the president of UNITE HERE! Local 26, the union that represents Harvard’s dining service workers, did not return requests for comment.
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.