Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cafe Gratitude Sued for Labor-Code Violations

By Ellen Cushing
Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Better start working on your "I am [allegedly violating labor law/gettin' sued]" witticisms now, guys. That's right: Local raw-vegan chain/alleged cult Cafe Gratitude is being sued by a former employee for a host of labor-law violations.

In the suit, which was filed in San Francisco superior court, Sarah Stevens alleges that in her time working at various CafGraf locations, she was deprived of legally-mandated breaks, and received only a fraction of the tips she rightfully earned. Per a statement from her legal team, Kumin Sommers LLP:

In addition to not receiving her rest and meal periods, Stevens alleges that she is required to participate in an unreasonable and uncustomary tip pooling scheme that leaves her with a very small percentage of the tips she earns as a server. Specifically, Stevens alleges that after tipping out 20% of her daily tips to the “central kitchen” — an offsite kitchen on 14th street — Stevens must then split the remaining 80% of her tips equally with all of the Café Gratitude staff, including the “shift leaders” and retail employees.

Cafe Gratitude, you may remember, has also drawn ire from current and former staff for its relationship to the self-help program Landmark Forum, which some employees allege they were forced into by threat of losing their jobs. And it appears the company's no stranger to lawsuits, either: In 2007, the restaurant chain was sued by for breach of contract by its napkin supplier, and the statement from Stevens' law firm also alludes to possible litigation surrounding an Americans with Disabilities Act violation. (Alas, if only it were illegal to charge $13 for plate of hummus.)

We'll keep you posted.

Update, 5:38: Lookie here. Our homies at SF Weekly spoke to a rep from Cafe Gratitude, who more or less called BS on the suit. Director of Operations Chandra Gilbert said that the tip-pooling policy, which seems to be the crux of Stevens' lawsuit, was approved by an employee vote, and that new hires also sign an agreement letting them know about the system. Meanwhile, the Weekly also reports that Stevens will be seeking at least $75,000.

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