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Jeff_Ruby_logo.jpeg Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment

Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse parent sued for tip theft

Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment was a defendant in a similar federal lawsuit from former employees in 2013.

Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment, a hospitality group that owns The Precinct, Carlo & Johnny, five Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouses, and The Lempicka by Jeff Ruby, has been sued by a former employee for tip and wage theft. The former employee, Johnathan Lamb, filed a proposed class action federal labor lawsuit against the company in late February in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

According to Louisville Business First, Lamb’s attorney claims the class action was proposed on behalf of “hundreds of servers and bartenders” who have worked at Jeff Ruby’s restaurants in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Lexington, Kentucky, and Nashville, Tennessee. The company also has a location in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lamb claims the company used the tip credit exemption to federal minimum wages yet made him perform non-tip producing work before and after his scheduled shifts, such as polishing glassware and rolling silverware. He also claims he and other employees were required to pay into a “tip pool” that pays back of the house employees who don’t typically earn tips or interact with customers. The tip credit exemption allows restaurants to pay employees less than the minimum wage if the balance is covered by tips. In Ohio, the tip credit wage is $4.40 an hour, while in Kentucky and Tennessee, it is $2.13 an hour. The lawsuit says such tip-sharing activity benefits the restaurant company by subsidizing the costs of employing back-of-house employees.

Lamb is seeking to recover unpaid minimum and overtime wages, unlawfully retained tips, attorney fees, and other damages.

In a statement, Britney Ruby Miller, CEO of Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment, denied the plaintiff’s allegations and noted the lawsuit was filed by “ONE disgruntled former employee.”

“Our family-owned business is passionately dedicated to our employees,” she stated. “They are not only our greatest asset – they are our family. Our purpose statement is to ‘transform the hospitality industry by improving lives through our culture of caring.’ We have always and will always stand up for justice and truth. The actions alleged in the lawsuit are untrue and we plan to defend ourselves vigorously to the fullest extent of the law.”  

The lawsuit will require the federal court’s approval to be reviewed as a class action.

Notably, Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment was a defendant in a similar federal lawsuit from former employees in 2013. Those employees, who worked for Carlo & Johnny and Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, claimed they were required to share their tips with back of the house employees, which they said is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Though federal labor law is clear that employers may not keep tips received by their employees under any circumstances, lawsuits alleging wage and tip theft are not uncommon. According to the Department of Labor, over $4.4 million in back wages for tip-related violations were paid in 2023, versus $3.3 million in 2022. As such, there are several states that have voted to eliminate the tip credit, while others have put the consideration on the ballot. 

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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