Ex-waitress sues NC restaurant chain that forced employees to work for $2.13 an hour -- without tips
Vanessa Chavez (Charlotte Observer)

A former server from North Carolina sued a restaurant chain over unpaid side work she and other employees were required to perform.

Vanessa Chavez filed a federal lawsuit against Hickory Tavern, which she said required her and other workers to spend much of their shifts performing un-tipped duties such as cleaning and stocking, reported the Charlotte Observer.

Despite not earning tips for those duties, servers still were paid the $2.13 minimum wage for tipped work.

The lawsuit, which is similar to complaints filed against restaurants in other states, accuses Hickory Tavern of violating federal laws allowing employers to pay servers a reduced rate if their tips push their combined pay above the $7.25 hourly minimum wage.

The 27-year-old Chavez, who left Hickory Tavern last year after four months on the job, said her manager dismissed her complaints by saying "it is a lot worse at other places."

The former server said she spent as much as 40 percent of her shift performing side work, and her attorney said many restaurant workers are too young and inexperienced to complain.

“They are afraid to lose their jobs,” said attorney Paul Dickinson. “Restaurants take advantage.”

The federal suit, which names T&B Management and T&B Concepts of Hickory as defendants, allows current and former Hickory Tavern employees to join.

Similar complaints have been filed against Ruby Tuesdays, Houlihan’s and Applebee's, which argued that side work was part of a server's regular duties and should not be paid at a higher rate.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused in 2012 to hear Applebee’s International Inc.’s challenge to a lawsuit filed by thousands of bartenders and servers.

The court cited Labor Department rules that require restaurants to pay the full minimum wage for side jobs and other non-tipped work if those duties make up more than 20 percent of employees' work day.