Oh So Now You Think TIPPING Is Sexist And Racist? Well Yes!
Today, One Fair Wage, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers, announced a lawsuit against Darden Restaurants, which owns approximately 1,800 chain restaurants across the United states, most notably Olive Garden and Capital Grille.
The gist of the lawsuit is that by paying servers a subminimum wage — $2.13 in many states — the company puts them in a position where they have to put up with sexual harassment from customers if they want to be able to earn money, and where people of color are earning 18 percent less than their white counterparts. These things are true for basically all restaurants. That doesn't make them okay.
Interestingly, the only plaintiff in this lawsuit is One Fair Wage, alleging that it has "been forced to divert its resources to address Darden employees' complaints that they have suffered more and worse sexual harassment than their coworkers of the same sex who are not subject to the policies, as well as complaints from Darden employees of color that they have received less in tips than their white coworkers." Basically, they're saying that Darden is so bad that people who work for those restaurants are eating up all of their resources.
From the lawsuit:
According to empirical and anecdotal data from current and former Darden employees, and supported by studies measuring the impact of wage policies like Darden's, the subminimum wage is the direct cause of, or at least a motivating factor in, a documented increase in sexual harassment. A key reason for this is that the subminimum wage puts great pressure on tipped employees to have the customers, rather than Darden, pay employees their legally-required wages. This, in turn, means that managers have an incentive to ignore, indulge, or even encourage sexual harassment, including requiring or encouraging employees to flirt or dress suggestively. Without Darden's cash wage policy, these illegal effects would be substantially lessened.
It's true. I've never worked for a Darden restaurant, but I've worked in other restaurants and everyone knows that flirting with customers and ignoring certain comments means you get better tips. It's considered "just the way things are" to the point where it barely occurs to anyone that things should not be this way.
Separately, Darden's tipping policy has led directly to, or was at least a motivating factor in, tipped employees of color being paid less in tips than tipped white employees. The reason is clear: it is Darden's corporate policy or practice to encourage and facilitate tipping for positions like servers and bartenders without mediation, which means that Darden, as a corporation, requires its customers to directly set the wage levels for tens of thousands of its employees without any oversight. But customers are often capricious, not systematic; they are often emotional, not rational; and they often bring conscious and unconscious racial and other biases with them when they eat out. Thus, whether intentional or not, and whether made by customers who have had two bottles of wine or none at all, customer decisions about whether and how much to tip have resulted in employees of color being paid meaningfully less than white employees because of their race. To be clear, tipping itself is not the problem. Rather, Darden's tipping policy, which does nothing to mitigate customers' tip choices, is the problem.
One Fair Wage is alleging that because managers are instructed to pay employees the least amount they can legally pay them in these states, and because these things are happening as a result of employees being paid so little, the company bears responsibility for them. There are also, obviously, issues with managers routinely giving or not giving people good shifts or good sections.
If servers do not make enough in tips to get to the minimum wage, the restaurant is supposed to pay them the difference. But 20 percent of Darden workers said in a survey conducted by One Fair Wage that they did not receive that money. Perhaps they can launch a class action suit of their own, because that's messed up.
In addition to the issues caused by the subminimum wage, employees also allege being sexually harassed by managers and other employees while at work and expected to put up with it, as well as racial harassment. According to the survey, over 40 percent of Darden workers said they had experienced a co-worker saying something crappy to them based on their race or gender.
"'I hate taking Black tables,' I hear on a daily basis," one server told them. This is also not surprising. People who work in restaurants will openly say that they don't think Black people tip — which results in them giving those tables bad service, which then results in them getting bad tips, which then results in them then complaining that Black people don't tip. It's a cycle and it's gross.
Restaurants don't have to be horrible places to work, and they don't need to eliminate tipping altogether, either. With a fair minimum wage in place and a few adjustments in other areas, they can pay and treat workers well and fairly — as they should.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse