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For Seattle service workers, fight for fair pay doesn’t end with $15 minimum wage

Seattle’s $15 minimum wage may have been a win for workers trying to make a living in an increasingly expensive city, but other wage challenges that have accompanied its implementation make clear that the fight for fair compensation isn’t over.

That was made clear in a $2.4 million settlement prominent Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas has agreed to pay to more than 1,000 current and former workers who sued his restaurant chain in a class-action lawsuit.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Clare Thomas, who worked at Brave Horse Tavern in downtown Seattle, accused Douglas’ chain of not disclosing where its 20 percent service charge to customers was going and not providing adequate rest and meal breaks for workers.

Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen, the corporate group that makes up more than a dozen restaurants and businesses, introduced the 20 percent service fee starting in 2016 after eliminating tips in most of its restaurants to meet the demands of paying its staff $15 per hour. A number of Seattle restaurants introduced similar service charges in response to the increased wage requirements.

While some of the menus and receipts in Douglas’ restaurants claimed that all of the 20 percent service charge would be distributed to the team, plaintiffs in the lawsuit said that front-of-the-house service workers received an average of only 14 percent of the bill.

“Customers reasonably believe service charges go to the employees who provide service,”  Marc Cote, the lead attorney on the lawsuit, told the Seattle Times. “That’s why Washington law requires employers to disclose in menus and receipts the percentage of service charges actually paid to the employees serving the customer.”

In addition to paying the plaintiffs $2.4 million, Douglas’ company has agreed to create an employee hotline for workers to report concerns and give supervisors employment rights training.

“I brought this lawsuit to try to change the culture in restaurants, ensure transparency with regard to distribution of service charges, and seek fair pay,” Thomas, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Seattle Times.

The lawsuit, which was widely reported largely due to Tom Douglas’ celebrity status in Seattle, is a reminder that workers can hold even the most high-profile employers accountable.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us at if you have a wage violation, workers’ comp, injury, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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