AMARAL BROTHERS, INC. v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, SC 19622

Judicial District of New Britain

 

      Labor; Minimum Wage; Whether Employer Entitled to Tip Credit on Wages Paid to Food Delivery Drivers; Whether Tip Credit Limited to Employees Who Serve Food to Customers at Tables.  The plaintiff operates two Domino's pizza franchises in the state and employs drivers who deliver food to customers' homes.  The delivery drivers commonly receive monetary tips from customers, which they report on an electronic system maintained by the plaintiff.  The plaintiff sought a declaratory ruling from the defendant department of labor determining that it could apply a “tip credit” to pay a reduced minimum wage to its delivery drivers.  The plaintiff relied on General Statutes § 31-60 (b), which provides that the department shall adopt regulations recognizing that employers can include, as part of the minimum wage, tips received by employees, other than bartenders, working in the hotel and restaurant industry.  The plaintiff also challenged the validity of regulations enacted by the department on the ground that they improperly limit the § 31-60 (b) tip credit to “service employees,” which are defined as employees “whose duties relate solely to the serving of food and/or beverages to patrons seated at tables or booths, and to the performance of duties incidental to such service, and who customarily receive gratuities.”  The department ruled that the regulations are valid and that the plaintiff must pay its drivers the full minimum wage because they are not service employees to whom the tip credit applies.  The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed the department’s ruling.  The trial court noted that, while the regulations limit the applicability of the tip credit in a way not authorized by the plain language of § 31-60 (b), the department’s interpretation of the statute was nonetheless entitled to deference because it was time-tested and reasonable, because it had received some degree of judicial scrutiny, and because the legislature has acquiesced in that interpretation.  The trial court also found that the department properly ruled that the plaintiff’s delivery drivers do not qualify as service employees to whom the tip credit applies because they do not serve customers at tables or booths, as required by the regulations.  The plaintiff appeals, claiming that the trial court improperly upheld the department’s ruling that the plaintiff was not entitled to a tip credit on the wages it paid its delivery drivers.  The plaintiff argues that § 31-60 (b) is clear and unambiguous in mandating a tip credit here and that the trial court wrongly deemed the department’s contrary interpretation of the statute as having been somehow ratified by the courts and by the legislature.