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Business in brief: Toyota to start leasing plug-in hybrids in 2009

Tokyo – Toyota said Wednesday it will start leasing plug-in hybrid cars, that are even greener than its hit Prius, by the end of this year in the U.S., Japan and Europe.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s top automaker, will start leasing 200 plug-ins in Japan, 150 in the U.S. and 150 in Europe, mostly for rental, such as through special government-backed programs, it said in a release.

Toyota will for the first time use lithium-ion batteries in the plug-ins. The batteries are already used in some cars but more commonly in laptops and other gadgets.

Father’s Day spending expected to be down

Despite the recession, dads can still expect dinner and neckties for Father’s Day this year.

According to a National Retail Federation survey, Americans are expected to spend an average of $90.89 on gifts for dad this year, down slightly from $94.54 in 2008. Total spending is expected to reach $9.4 billion.

The survey found that people will spend the most ($1.9 billion) on special outings such as dinner or a sporting event, but clothing still ranks high among gift-givers, who are expected to shell out $1.3 billion on new socks, slacks and ties. Others will treat dad to a gift card ($1.2 billion), electronics ($1 billion) books or CDs ($548 million), home improvement items ($522 million) and sporting goods ($502 million).

Economic data show little improvement

Washington – A pair of economic reports on Wednesday indicated only slight improvement in the service and manufacturing sectors, suggesting that any economic recovery will be gradual.

The Institute for Supply Management said its services index registered 44 in May, up slightly from 43.7 in April. It was the highest reading since October. But the ISM figure fell slightly below economists’ expectations. Any reading below 50 indicates the services sector is shrinking.

Separately, the government reported that orders to U.S. factories rose 0.7 percent in April, the second increase in three months. But the Commerce Department’s report fell short of analysts’ expectations.

Court rules against Starbucks baristas

San Diego – A California appeals court reversed a ruling that ordered Starbucks Corp. to pay millions in restitution to baristas who had to share their tips with shift supervisors.

The 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego ruled Tuesday that supervisors “essentially perform the same job as baristas,” so they should get their fair share of collective tip jars.

In 2004, former barista Jou Chau filed a class-action lawsuit against the Seattle-based coffee giant on behalf of more than 100,000 current and former baristas in California.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett ruled in their favor last year and awarded $86 million in restitution plus $20 million in interest. Starbucks appealed, calling the decision “fundamentally unfair and beyond all common sense and reason.”

Attorneys for the baristas said they plan to appeal the latest ruling to the California Supreme Court.

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