By Amy J. Traub

On December 16, 2009, Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment to Starbucks Corp. (“Starbucks”) in a wage/hour lawsuit filed by former and current baristas of Starbucks’s coffee shops located in New York.

In their lawsuit, filed in April 2008, the New York baristas argued that Starbucks had violated state wage and hour laws by splitting tips intended for baristas with shift supervisors, handing out tips on a weekly basis instead of on a per-shift basis, and failing to distribute tips to baristas-in-training. The baristas further moved for class certification on behalf of all baristas who have worked at Starbucks coffee shops in New York in the past six years, estimating that the proposed class in New York could likely exceed 2,000 people and that the amount in controversy was more than $5 million.

In its motion for summary judgment, Starbucks argued that shift supervisors are part-time hourly-paid workers who provide the same customer service as baristas and do not act as supervisors or agents of the company in that they have no authority to interview, hire, transfer, evaluate, promote, discipline, fire, or determine pay for any other employee and do not otherwise perform the types of duties performed by a “supervisor” or “agent,” as those terms are defined by the New York State Labor Law. Therefore, argued Starbucks, shift supervisors should be entitled to inclusion in the tip pool. Judge Swain agreed, granting Starbucks’s motion and dismissing the baristas’ tip-splitting claims, reasoning that any additional duties performed by shift supervisors, such as opening and closing the store, depositing money in the safe, and overseeing the store when a manager is out, do not constitute the exercise of authority over the creation, terms, or conditions of the employment relationship with Starbucks.

Having granted summary judgment to Starbucks, the court then denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.

The plaintiffs have appealed.