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Overtime Pay Class Action All About Getting Ugly

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Nashville, TNAn overtime pay laws class action is grabbing headlines across the nation over claims of unpaid overtime and alleged illegalities involving tip pools, but also with regard to sensational claims appearing in social media, related to the case.

The lawsuit has its roots in Nashville, but encompasses abuses against California overtime law given the national status of the lawsuit, which represents current and former employees of the Coyote Ugly chain nationwide.

Coyote Ugly Saloon Development Corp. (Coyote Ugly) is one of three defendants in the class-action lawsuit filed in Tennessee Middle District Court, and involves claims of abuse of overtime laws through an alleged requirement for employees to work off the clock, together with claims the defendant allowed an illegal tip pool.

To that point, the plaintiffs take issue with an apparent policy maintained by the defendant(s) that security guards employed by the chain at their various locations are allowed to claim five percent from gross tip receipts, according to an account appearing in The Tennessean (4/17/13).

In situations where security personal participate as “barbacks” - a term used variously to reference activities identified as assisting bartenders, re-stocking bars (including the exchange of beer kegs) and the cleaning of counters - Coyote Ugly allegedly allows them to claim 10 percent of the tip pool.

The defendant(s) in the unpaid overtime lawsuit argues that security personnel undertake an important role for the facilities at which they are employed, assisting clients and contributing to the overall atmosphere of the themed bar. Thus, the defense argues, they are entitled to a share of tip receipts.

Testimony heard April 17 suggests there is more to this story beyond issues surrounding overtime pay and tip pools. To that end, it appears as if the lawsuit may live up to the Coyote Ugly name in more ways than one.

That’s because plaintiff Sarah Stone, who served as a bartender-dancer at a Coyote Ugly facility in Oklahoma City, is one of two key plaintiffs seeking damages for alleged retaliation due to their involvement in the class-action lawsuit.

Stone alleges that a regional manager employed at the Oklahoma facility at the time made a threat against her in a status update to his Facebook page. Daniel Huckaby, who is now identified as director of operations for the Coyote Ugly chain, admitted to being intoxicated on the night he posted the alleged threat to Facebook, and claimed not to recall undertaking the post at all.

Also seeking damages for retaliation is Misty Blu Stewart, the plaintiff who initiated the lawsuit. The former bartender-dancer from Nashville testified that a blog entry posted by the CEO of Coyote Ugly, Liliana Lovell, left Stewart ashamed and “extremely embarrassed.” The blog post, to Lil Spill, allegedly referenced Stewart in a derogatory way and appeared soon after Stewart initiated the overtime pay lawsuit.

However, according to The Tennessean, Stewart’s name did not appear in the blog post.

Overtime pay laws remain an important protection for employees in various industries, while workers compensation also serves as a frustration for any employee when compensation benefits are withheld, or unavailable due to an employer having insufficient workers compensation coverage, or none at all. Often, a lawsuit is needed to pursue and secure the necessary workers compensation settlements.

As for unpaid overtime, while some jobs are legally exempt from overtime pay, employers have variously played fast and loose with classification rules in an effort to escape the need to pay overtime.

For most employers, overtime pay is a constant frustration due to an inability to definitively forecast overtime. Overtime budgets struck as a necessary hedge against overtime as needed - but not used - represents a pool of funds an employer might have put toward something more tangible throughout the budget year.

For the employee, such an argument holds little value. Work performed beyond the standard work week requires prompt payment under California overtime law, as well as similar laws in other states together with federal statutes.

Plaintiffs in the Nashville-based class-action lawsuit claim that unpaid overtime for working off the clock and tips claimed by security personnel, translates to money that should have been paid to the plaintiffs. The lawsuit also names CUS Nashville, LLC and Liliana Lovell, as defendants.

The case is Stewart v. CUS Nashville, LLC et al Case No. 3:11-cv-00342.


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