Jeff Ruby responds to suit from ex-employees

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Local restaurateur Jeff Ruby is a defendant in a federal lawsuit from former employees who say they had to give up some of their tips to employees not traditionally tipped for their work.

In the suit filed Monday, three former waitstaff employees of Carlo & Johnny and Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse downtown say a practice in the restaurants forced them to give some of their tip money, which they say is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"The issue is who was being tipped out in these tip pools, and managers and other employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips cannot be included in this tip pool," said Sarah Leyshock, one of the plaintiff's lawyers on the case.

Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment, also a defendant on the case, operates six restaurants in the Tri-State.

On Wednesday, Ruby posted a personal statement on his website:

Dear Friends,

Even though I have been advised to not litigate through the media, after watching one-sided, accusatory news coverage, I agree with my team that I must respond. I will keep it brief. I know you are smart enough to connect the dots.

We have the greatest employees in the world. We invest a tremendous amount of resources into ensuring they have the necessary training, knowledge and experience to perform to the best of their ability. Simply put, our servers are the best in the business. Therefore, they are highly compensated—averaging $65K a year, with shifts that average 7 hours a day. Because of my gratitude toward them, I pay one million per year out of my own pocket so every employee from dishwasher up has 100% company-paid health insurance coverage. The billion dollar restaurant chains (including casinos) don't provide the coverage I do. My team is my family and I love them dearly. We look forward to defending our loyalty to them.

FOX19 caught up with Ruby's daughter, Britney Ruby Miller, who works as the direction of development for Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment.

On Tuesday she added, "I think all that I can comment on is that we've got the greatest employees in the world and naturally, with any large company, there's going to be a couple disgruntled employees."

Lawyers for the former employees say their clients were making a "service minimum wage," and got tips to bring them up to federal minimum wage standards, a common practice.

The former employees say they were expected to give up some of their tip money to positions not usually tipped.

Attorneys say the Fair Labor Standards Act's tip pooling requirements were then violated, and the company is no longer entitled to use a tip credit.

"When you violate their regulations on tip pooling, you're no longer entitled to that credit towards meeting the minimum wage requirement," added Leyshock.

However, officials with Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment say they treat their employees well and will fight the allegations.

"This is not something we're concerned with. We love our team. We've got a great staff, and the only thing that I can say is that we're going to defend ourselves and fight vigorously for it," added Ruby Miller.

Attorneys for the former employees say these alleged practices may have also happened at the company's restaurant at Belterra Casino Resort, but haven't added that location to the suit because no employees from there have come forward.

Lawyers say this case is a collective action case, meaning anyone employed as a waitstaff employee, current or former, could choose to opt-in to the lawsuit.

The former employees say the tip out practices were stopped around August 2012.  The suit says they're fighting to recoup tips and wages back to 2010 they claim they earned and never received.

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