Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Deep Dish Pizza for Lunch? How About a Lawsuit Instead?

Chicagoans will debate endlessly over who has the best deep dish pizza in town. My vote has always been for Giordano’s, so if I were to work a job where I received Giordano’s pizza during every shift, it would seem like a dream come true (although it would probably be a nightmare for my waistline). Christina Monson didn’t see it this way. Monson was an employee at a Giordano’s in Oak Park, IL, a suburb of Chicago. The Giordano’s franchise was owned by Marie’s Best Pizza, which offered its employees the opportunity to enroll in a program where they would be given a meal during each shift in exchange for $0.25 being deducted from their hourly wage.

Monson, who had enrolled in this program, alleged in a class action lawsuit that it violated the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. She claimed that it violated the Minimum Wage Law, which requires employers to pay wages of $8.25 an hour, because the $0.25 deduction brought wages below $8.25 an hour. She argued that it violated the Wage Payment and Collection Act because Marie’s failed to pay its employees the full amount due for all hours worked.

The court ultimately rejected Monson’s claims, granting Marie’s motion for summary judgment. The court noted that the Minimum Wage Law and its regulations allow an employer to provide meals to its employees and charge them the reasonable costs of providing that meal. Marie’s provided detailed records showing that the average cost of a meal exceeded the amount withheld from each employee’s paycheck by nearly 50%. Therefore, it was not a violation of the Minimum Wage Law. It was not a violation of the Wage Payment and Collection Act either, because Marie’s had not failed to pay its employees the full amount of their paycheck.

There are a few things to take away from this decision. First, the court noted that had the employees shown that they did not eat the meals provided, they would have prevailed. While the Minimum Wage Law allows employers to deduct for reasonable costs associated with providing employees meals, these employees must actually eat the meals. Second, Marie’s had detailed records to show that the cost of the meals it provided exceeded the amount of money deducted from its employees’ pay. If they did not have these records, they may not have prevailed.

While I would jump at the chance to eat Giordano’s every day (although I might not be able to jump before long), not every employee feels the same way. Providing its employees with a meal program turned into a huge hassle for Marie’s, requiring it to keep detailed records of its program and make sure that its employees were actually taking advantage of it. Ultimately, it probably would have been easier had they just done away with the program.