Starbucks Tip Jar Fight Lands In NY High Court

The Starbucks tip jar has always been a bit of a contentious issue as it has normalized tipping for non-table service — but another gratuity-related controversy has arisen from the practice, traveling all the way up to New York’s State Court of Appeals over who is entitled to the pooled money collected during shifts.

The Starbucks tip jar battle involves two separate cases and is the sort of tipping dispute ignited recently when Amy’s Baking Company appeared on the Fox show Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay.

In that episode, the single most inflammatory thing the owners of the embattled restaurant did involved taking waitstaff gratuities — and generally, tipping customers assume that the person waiting on them will directly receive the gratuity.

Disgruntled baristas took to the legal system over such a practice — though the issue is not as easily parseable as the one seen on TV earlier this month. It boils down to “shift supervisors” and whether the slightly higher ranking but not more highly paid employees are countable as “agents” of Starbucks and thusly entitled to a share of the Starbucks tip jar.

Daniel Maimon Kirschenbaum of Joseph Herzfeld Hester & Kirschenbaum LLP commented on the litigation and what he sees as a larger move by Starbucks and other restaurants to deprive low-wage workers of the tips they earn:

“The restaurant association is trying to use this as an opportunity to get some kind of decision that will grant them amnesty for their bad behavior over the years … They like to break the law and they’re thinking this could be their chance to get a free ticket.”

According to CBS, Starbucks has clarified that assistant managers (but not shift supervisors, ostensibly) are not entitled to a share of the Starbucks tip jar because they are “rewarded with performance-based bonuses and other benefits not available to their subordinates.”

Lawyers representing shift supervisors in a separate case argue the Starbucks tip jar should be open to the slightly higher ranking workers, who say they do “98 percent” the same customer service work ground-level baristas do.