September 22, 2007 in Business

Starbucks managers case moves closer to trial

Ellen Simon Associated Press
 

A lawsuit filed on behalf of 900 Starbucks Corp. store managers who say they are glorified baristas and should be eligible for overtime came one step closer to trial Friday.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra in West Palm Beach, Fla., ruled that the plaintiffs in the case were “similarly situated” and the case could continue as a class action. The suit seeks unpaid overtime wages, damages and attorney’s fees that could total tens of millions of dollars.

The case is part of a national tussle over whether many managers are improperly classified as exempt from overtime laws. The managers seeking overtime pay argue that their daily duties are virtually the same as the hourly workers they supervise. Starbucks competitor Caribou Coffee Co. faces a similar case in Minnesota.

Under federal law, some of the factors managers are defined by include whether they have authority to make personnel decisions, the amount of time they spend on non-managerial tasks, the importance of their non-managerial duties compared to other duties, freedom from direct supervision and the relationship between a manager’s salary and non-manager’s wages.

Two former Starbucks managers filed the case in June 2004, saying their primary duties were serving coffee and doing the same work as other employees.

In his decision, Marra pointed to the testimony of several store managers who say taking care of customers was probably their most important responsibility.

In one deposition, a store manager said 70 percent of his time was spent doing barista work — taking orders, making coffee, and ringing up customers. The judge also noted that roughly half the store manager training plan focuses on learning and practicing barista and shift manager responsibilities.

The next expected step in the case will be a ruling by the judge on a Starbucks request for summary judgment, said Daniel R. Levin, a Boca Raton-based attorney for the plaintiffs. If the judge denies Starbucks’ motion for summary judgment, the case could go to trial this year, Levine said.

Starbucks did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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