‘Slutty Vegan’ founder Pinky Cole responds to federal lawsuit over tips
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - It’s a popular Atlanta restaurant chain that’s garnered attention across the country, but now it’s caught up in a lawsuit.
The owner of plant-based restaurants Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan are being sued. Pinky Cole is accused of withholding hard-earned tips from employees.
In the federal lawsuit, Morgan Georgia, and two other former employees accuse Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole and two co-owners of requiring tipped employees to give up 25 percent of their tips at Bar Vegan, inside Ponce City Market. That money, they allege, was used to go to the house.
Georgia’s attorney says their clients claim Bar Vegan never gave a clear answer as to where their tips were going.
“One of our clients asked that [what is the house] several times during the course of their employment. They got varying explanations,” said Travis Foust, plaintiffs’ attorney.
One of those explanations, is they say the tip money was being used to purchase bar stools and glassware. Another explanation, they allege, is their money was given to other employees in the restaurant who are not tipped employees and make a regular hourly wage.
Atlanta-based labor law attorney Ed Buckley, who’s not associated with this lawsuit, says if their claims are true, Bar Vegan was breaking the law.
“Restaurants can engage in tip pooling in which the employees are expected to share a portion of their tip with other tipped employees. For example, a waiter or waitress might be expected to share with a bartender,” said Buckley.
Georgia also claims she and other employees were paid less than minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but for tipped workers, it’s much less - only $2.13 per hour. They say, because Bar Vegan was allegedly taking some of their tips, they were not making federal minimum wage.
Bar Vegan customers say if the allegations are true, they hope the restaurant makes good with their former employees.
“I mean, I remember when I worked at the restaurant, I worked with other waiters and they were, their check to be like two dollars because most of the money comes from their tips,” said Lisbeth Sierra of Atlanta.
Buckley says tipped employees need to be proactive. He says it’s okay to ask your employer to see the receipts - to see how tips are being distributed.
Atlanta News First reached out to Cole and Slutty Vegan for comment, but we have yet to hear back.
Under Georgia law Buckley said employers can not take employee tips for any reason, “The law does not permit that, they can not use that money for any management or operational purposes.”
Under the same law employers can not take money from tip pools either, but they can let non-tipped employees like dishwashers participate in the tip pool.
Buckley said employers must keep a record of all tips and distribute tips back to tipped employees within the pay period to be in compliance with the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act.
Buckley said no matter what, legally employers have to make sure employees are making federal minimum wage, ”These tips are either pocketed by the employees or they are recorded by the restaurant.”
Pinky Cole responded to the lawsuit Wednesday night on her official Instagram and Facebook pages:
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