NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the settlement agreement reached by attorneys was approved by the court on Sept. 25.
ATHENS, Ohio — Parties in a federal class action lawsuit alleging labor violations by Bob Evans Restaurants agreed to a $5 million settlement last week. The plaintiffs include employees of the Bob Evans at 357 E State St. in Athens and other locations across the country.
The lawsuit alleged that employees at Bob Evans locations were classified as tipped employees and therefore paid less than minimum wage — even though those employees were routinely required to spend substantial portions of their shifts performing nontipped work.
Bob Evans continues to deny all claims put forward in the lawsuit, according to the settlement agreement. The agreement was approved by U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania Judge W. Scott Hardy on Sept. 25, and the case was dismissed.
Plaintiffs Rebecca Bailey and Regina Jensen both worked at the Athens Bob Evans location. Jensen also worked at a Parkersburg, West Virginia location, along with another plaintiff, Vickie Rash. (Bailey’s attorney, Michael Fradin, declined to connect the Independent to the plaintiffs to avoid complications with the settlement.)
The lawsuit says the Athens Bob Evans required Bailey and other employees to “perform numerous job duties when there was no possibility for that employee to generate tips, such as before the restaurant opened or after it had closed,” including cleaning and stocking.
The alleged practice violated both federal and state law, which requires tipped employees to spend less than 20% of their time on nontipped work.
The practice was “widespread, repeated and part of a pattern,” affecting not only Bailey and Athens workers, but Bob Evans workers throughout Ohio, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit made similar claims regarding Bob Evans labor practices in the other states.
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Bailey, Jensen and Rash are among 15 named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which also represents about 5,000 unnamed current or former Bob Evans employees across Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New York who opted into the lawsuit.
About one-third of the settlement will go to the plaintiff’s attorney fees. That leaves over $3.2 million to be divided among the approximately 5,000 plaintiffs. The amount each individual receives will depend on the number of hours each individual worked during the period under security by the lawsuit, as well as minimum wage laws in each state.
Bailey’s attorney Michael Fradin said, “What I really like about these kinds of cases is the main plaintiffs are doing this in order to do what’s best for their similarly situated coworkers.”
The 15 named plaintiffs will each receive an additional $2,000.
The lawsuit initially included many claims beyond those related to the proportion of time employees spent on nontipped work. These included claims of inadequate overtime compensation and failure to provide notice to tipped employees of their rights.
These other claims were dismissed, although the court rejected Bob Evans’s attempt to have the claims related to nontipped work dismissed as well. Attorneys for Bob Evans did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit was initially filed in 2018 in Pennsylvania. Other, similar lawsuits were then merged into the case including one in Ohio that was added in November 2019.
The Ohio lawsuit was initially filed shortly after a similar lawsuit against Athens Buffalo Wild Wings settled in 2018. Fradin said that settlement was helpful in generating interest in this case, as it demonstrated that workers could fight back against practices he described as “common in the restaurant industry.”
Fradin said he hopes this lawsuit will similarly embolden workers in the industry.
“These kinds of cases create somewhat of a buzz within communities of these workers who are working very, very hard and not always being compensated accordingly,” Fradin said. This buzz can lead to further labor litigation, resulting in changes within the industry, he added.
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