Civil Rights Litigator
What if you found out that the 20% service charge that you recently shelled out never actually made it to the workers? Shannon Liss-Riordan is here to tell you…it happens all the time.
Wait staff and housekeeping tips that end up in the pocket of the owners. Skycaps who never see a dime of the bag fees you give them. Cab drivers forced to pay fees so high they can’t clear a decent wage even with tips and 12 hours behind the wheel. Strippers denied wages and tips. Class Action Super Lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan has represented them all.
And it all started with a phone call. Three years into her career as a civil rights lawyer, the double Harvard alum answered her phone and on the other end was a waiter who said his manager was taking a share of his tips and he thought it was wrong. She looked into it and decided that it was, in fact, illegal. “Before I knew it I had dozens of clients and was challenging many employers on grounds that they were taking tips intended for wait staff.”
Since then, Liss-Riordan has earned a reputation as a tough litigator who wins, “putting entire industries on notice for breaking wage and hour laws”, as the Boston Globe reported in December and single-handedly forcing changes to tip and wage practices.
“Our system is designed to work so that service workers are paid a majority of their wages from tips. And the sad fact is that many employers take advantage of low-wage workers, especially immigrants. They can’t speak English well, leading some employees to think they won’t actually step up and challenge unfair tipping practices and other abuses.”
But there’s another reason some employers feel they can get away with this. And that’s because you, the customer, are too polite. You’re too polite to ask about the apportioning of service charges. You don’t want to seem cheap. In fact, your goal is to be generous, because you know the worker relies on tips for income. So you never ask. And the worker is stuck in a downward spiral.
In this informative and important talk from TEDxBeaconStreet, Shannon Liss-Riordan implores us to ask questions. “If you’re planning a party or hosting a wedding, or getting into a cab or eating at a restaurant… Ask. What is this service charge for? Does it go to the workers? Because it’s clear that some employers are profiting from this misunderstanding – that you think you are tipping the staff. And you’re too polite to ask. So don’t be. Next time, ask! Just think how powerful it would be if we all asked and we all demanded that these wages went to the hard working people who deserve them.”