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Schaefer v. Walker Bros. Enterprises, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 17, 2014

ROBERT SCHAEFER, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated Plaintiffs,
WALKER BROS. ENTERPRISES, INC., et al., Defendants.



Lead Plaintiff Robert Schaefer ("Lead Plaintiff") was a restaurant server formerly employed by Defendants Walker Bros. Enterprises, Inc., Walker Bros. Highland Park, Inc., Walker Food Services, Inc., Walker Bros. Lake Zurich, Inc., Walker Bros. Lincolnshire, Inc., and Walker Bros. West, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants"). Lead Plaintiff filed this class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and other similarly situated wait staff (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), alleging that Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 105 § 1, et seq. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.


A. Facts[1]

Defendants own six restaurants in the suburbs of Chicago that operate under the name "The Original® Pancake House." Defendants currently employ 123 men and women as restaurant servers. Since 2007, Defendants have employed over 500 people as servers. Lead Plaintiff worked primarily at Defendants' Wilmette and Glenview locations between November 2005 and August 2009, and also briefly worked at the Highland Park location in 2006.

Defendants provide servers with an employee handbook when they are hired. The handbook explains how Defendants apply a tip credit reducing servers' hourly wages by forty percent below minimum wage. In all six of their restaurants, Defendants display posters explaining the tip credit in well-traveled locations. These posters are approved by the United States Department of Labor ("DOL") and the Illinois Department of Labor. Lead Plaintiff "knew throughout his tenure that he would be paid part of his wages in tips." Pls.' Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) Resp. to Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ¶ 35. However, the parties dispute whether the servers were properly informed of the tip credit.

Defendants apply the tip credit because servers receive additional monetary tips from customers as part of their primary duty of serving tables. The primary duty of these servers is to "serve' their customers by responding to the customers' needs, such as by delivering drinks, dishes, condiments, garnish, and other items that customers request." Id . ¶ 15.

Defendants also have a general policy of assigning side work to servers in addition to their primary duty. Managers at Defendants' restaurants divide the side work amongst servers by assigning the servers to "stations." The managers rotate these station assignments between all of the servers. The type of side work that servers are assigned to varies depending on many factors such as the location at which they work, what shift they are assigned to work, how busy the restaurant is when they work, how many servers are working on the given day, and the operational decisions of their managers. The servers are typically assigned to one or fewer stations per shift. It is undisputed that the servers did not perform maintenance or janitorial work, such as cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, mopping or vacuuming floors, washing windows, or taking out garbage.

B. Procedural History

Lead Plaintiff and Nicolas Flax ("Flax") initiated this case against Defendants on October 5, 2010. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated federal and state labor laws in two ways: (1) Defendants incorrectly used a tip credit to pay Plaintiffs an hourly rate less than minimum wage while requiring Plaintiffs to perform duties outside of their tipped occupation; and (2) Defendants failed to properly inform Plaintiffs of their intent to apply the tip credit to Plaintiffs' wages. On July 11, 2011, Lead Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint removing Flax as a class representative. The Court then granted class certification for "All persons employed by Defendants as Servers from October 5, 2007, to the conclusion of this action, who were paid a sub-minimum, tip credit wage rate, and who performed duties unrelated to their tipped occupation, for which they were not paid minimum wage." Order, Sept. 19, 2013 [ECF No. 123]. Defendants now move for summary judgment, arguing that federal and state labor laws allow them to pay Plaintiffs less than minimum wage because the side work duties are related to servers' tipped occupation and they followed federal and state law to properly inform Plaintiffs of the tip credit. The motion is fully briefed and before the Court.


A. Standard of Decision

"Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Northfield Ins. Co. v. City of Waukegan , 701 F.3d 1124, 1128 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The court views the evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Wells v. Coker , 707 F.3d 756, 760 (7th Cir.2013). However, "[o]nce a party has made a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the pleadings but must instead submit evidentiary materials that set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Siegel v. Shell Oil Co. , 612 F.3d 932, 937 (7th Cir.2010) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). "A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Wells , 707 F.3d at 760 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Said another way, "[s]ummary judgment is appropriate if the ...

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