NEW YORK (Jonathan Stempel) - Starbucks Corp on Monday won dismissal of a lawsuit by former assistant store managers in New York who accused the world's largest coffee chain of cheating them out of customer tips.
U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan said the plaintiffs failed to show that they had a right to share in money left in the plexiglass cube containers, known as tip boxes, that Starbucks places beside cash registers.
She also said the plaintiffs did not support their claim that Seattle-based Starbucks coerced or else required them to put tips that customers left them personally into the boxes.
According to the opinion, Starbucks' written policy on tips lets baristas and shift supervisors, who are typically part-time hourly workers, handle and receive tip box proceeds.
In contrast, store managers and assistant store managers, who are typically salaried, full-time workers receiving other benefits such as holiday and sick pay and life insurance, do not handle tips. The policy is silent about individual tips.
Adam Klein, a lawyer for the workers, did not immediately return a request for comment. Starbucks spokesman Alan Hilowitz had no immediate comment.
The 2008 lawsuit was brought by five former assistant store managers who worked in Starbucks stores in New York City or Long Island and sought class-action status.
They said Starbucks violated state labor law by denying them tips, given that they performed similar duties to eligible workers, and forcing them to contribute to tip pools.
But Swain said the "plain language" of state labor law does not grant workers any right to share in such pools.
"Plaintiffs' claims that Starbucks improperly retained gratuities that plaintiffs were entitled to receive fail as a matter of law," she wrote.
The case is Winans et al v. Starbucks Corp, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-03734.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles. Editing by Robert MacMillan)
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