Starbucks baristas can keep more than $14 million for proving that the coffee chain enforced a tipping policy that is illegal in Massachusetts, the 1st Circuit ruled.
"As society matures and employment law evolves, legislatures have lavished more attention on the policies and practices used by employers with respect to customer gratuities," Judge Bruce Selya wrote for a three-member panel. "Massachusetts is in the regulatory forefront on these cutting-edge issues."
The court estimates that the state boasts about 150 outlets.
In 2008, a class of 2,500 baristas claimed that the chains forced them to share their tips with supervisors, in violation of the state's Tips Act, found in chapter 149 of Massachusetts General Laws.
The statute prohibits sharing tips for wait staff with managers.
In ruling in favor of the baristas, a federal judge found that the law "says what it means and means what it says," according to the 1st Circuit opinion. The Boston-based federal appeals court affirmed Friday.
"After careful consideration of a fundamental (and previously unanswered) interpretative question, we hold that the plain language of the Tips Act prohibits the defendant's tip-pooling policy," Selya wrote. "We also reject the parties' other claims of error. When all is said and done, we leave the combatants where we found them."