Open kitchen (Emilie Bourdages via Shutterstock)

A Connecticut Superior Court judge ordered a more than $1.3 million judgment last week in a class action lawsuit brought by servers who argued that the Chip’s Family Restaurant chain failed to pay them minimum wage. 

Judge Cesar Noble ordered the judgment against the owners of the restaurants on Wednesday. It includes around $1 million in back wages and nearly $323,000 in interest related to the long-running class action lawsuit, first brought in 2017. 

The case centered on allegations that the restaurants failed to pay servers minimum wage for time spent tending to non-serving responsibilities known as “side work.” That includes tasks like rolling silverware sets, cleaning, or restocking condiment supplies. 

Like most other states, Connecticut law includes a “tip credit” or a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. Restaurants can pay wait staff $6.38 an hour, for instance, as opposed to the full minimum wage, which is currently $15 per hour. 

State law requires restaurants to make up the difference during shifts when tips do not add up to the full minimum wage. Until the state legislature adopted a new policy in 2020, it also required restaurants to pay the full wage for time spent on side work. 

In their original complaint, the class, which included lead plaintiff Jacqueline Rodriguez and servers at the five Chip’s locations that were operating between 2015 and 2017, argued that the restaurants did not segregate the credit-eligible time spent serving from the time spent on side work.

“Instead, when Plaintiff performed these ‘non-service’ duties, Defendants’ took a ‘Tip Credit’ against her earnings and failed to compensate her at the required full minimum wage,” attorney Richard Hayber wrote. 

The local Chip’s Family Restaurant chain has downsized considerably in the years since the lawsuit began. While locations in Fairfield and Orange remain in operation, branches in Southington and Wethersfield closed last year following the death of the restaurants’ original owner, George Chatzopoulos, from brain cancer.

The owner of the remaining restaurants did not immediately return a call for comment left at the Orange location on Friday. 

Hayber, who has filed a string of similar complaints against Connecticut restaurants, said Friday that the case was significant because it was the first class action complaint by servers under the old tip credit law. He said it paved the way for similar cases against restaurants for failure to adequately compensate employees under the minimum wage rules. 

Hayber said the cases prompted the recent legislative changes favoring restaurant owners.

“These restaurants owe the money and rather than pay these workers what they are owed, they have gone to the legislature to try to retroactively change the rules of the game after the fact,” Hayber said. “I find that abhorrent.”

Scott Dolch, president and CEO of the CT Restaurant Association, did not immediately respond to a request for comment left Friday afternoon. 

State lawmakers considered a so-called “One Fair Wage” bill during this year’s legislative session that would have placed Connecticut among just a handful of other states which do not offer a tip credit and require employers to pay tipped workers the minimum wage. 

The bill advanced out of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, however, it faced opposition including from state restaurant operators, who argued the current tip credit system was working. The proposal was never raised for a vote in either chamber before the session concluded last month.