Starbucks' Tip Dilemma

Last Updated Mar 26, 2008 10:36 AM EDT

Today's Ethics Poll: Starbucks and the Distribution of Tips.
Last week, a California judge awarded $105 million in a class-action lawsuit against Starbucks because the company had wrongly allowed supervisors to share in the tips left by customers. Now, a former Starbucks employee in Massachusetts has filed a similar complaint.

Normally, this would be a simple no-no, because California law bans pooling tips among restaurant owners or their "agents" (such as managers or shift supervisors). But there are a few things about the Starbucks situation that makes this an interesting dilemma. These laws are designed to protect people who work on tips - waiters, bartenders, etc. - because they are paid below minimum wage, legally, with the assumption that they'll make up for it in gratuities. But Starbucks reportedly pays their "baristas" minimum wage or better. Secondly, while the shift supervisors earn a higher base salary, they still serve the customers who are leaving those tips (they also do other managerial duties).[poll id=28]Got an opinion on this barista brawl? Leave it in our comments section.
Have a workplace-ethics dilemma you'd like to see in this poll? Email wherestheline (at)

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.