Business

Legal Sea Foods faces new lawsuit over shared tips

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Legal Sea Foods has been hit with another class-action lawsuit over tips, this time by wait staff in Kendall Square and Chestnut Hill who say that their gratuities were shared illegally with oyster shuckers.

According to state law, only employees who serve food or drinks to customers, or clear their tables, are entitled to tips. Requiring waiters and bartenders, who are paid a minimum of $3 an hour, to share tips with oyster shuckers violates the law, the complaint says, and therefore the restaurant chain owes servers and bartenders the full minimum wage, which rose to $9 an hour this year.

Oyster shuckers were previously paid the lower minimum wage that tipped employees receive, but Legal Sea Foods ended the practice at most of its restaurants within the last two years, and started paying shuckers the full minimum wage, according to lawyer Hillary Schwab, who is representing the plaintiffs.

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The lawsuit, filed recently in Suffolk Superior Court, asks that employees receive back pay equal to the full minimum wage and unpaid tips going back three years. The suit could involve hundreds of wait staff employees at Legal restaurants across Massachusetts. Schwab, of the Boston law firm Fair Work P.C., would not speculate on how much money could be recovered.

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Richard Heller, general counsel for Legal Sea Foods, said the company would “vigorously defend” the litigation.

“The most recent filing is part of this firm’s playbook, a continuing attempt to obfuscate the facts and the law,” he said in an e-mail.

Legal Sea Foods is facing two other tips-related lawsuits, brought last year by Schwab on behalf of servers and bartenders at its Prudential Center and Burlington restaurants. The suits involve tips shared with workers who roll silverware into napkins, and are not entitled to tips, according to the complaint, because they don’t personally serve customers.

More coverage:

Opinion: Service not included

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.