|By Ann Kim, Portland Press Herald,
MaineMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 11, 2012--PORTLAND -- Two banquet servers are alleging in lawsuit filed today that the Eastland Park Hotel failed to distribute to them all the tips to which they were entitled.
Jeffrey Stone and Kimberly Williams brought the "tip skimming" class action in Cumberland County Superior Court against the hotel's owners and operators: Connecticut-based New Castle Hotel & Resorts and Delaware-based Portland II Hotel Management LLC.
Also named as defendants are Rhode Island-based Magna Hospitality Group LC and MHG Portland LLC, which owned and operated the hotel until about February 2011.
According to the complaint, the downtown hotel keeps a portion of gratuities for itself or distributes a portion to managers or other employees who do not serve food or beverages. The hotel adds a gratuity of 18 to 20 percent to food and beverage bills, including those for banquets, according to the complaint.
Williams has worked as a banquet server at the hotel since 2004 and Stone since last year. Their lawyer, Hillary Schwab, said she did not know how many people might be in the class.
Bruce Wennerstrom, the hotel's general manager and a vice president with New Castle, declined to comment.
This is the third suit of its kind brought in Maine by the Lichten & Liss-Riordan, the Boston firm representing the plaintiffs. The first, against the Union Bluff Hotel in York, was settled for $28,000, according to Schwab. The second, against the Cliff House & Motels in Ogunquit, was argued before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court last month. A decision has not yet been issued.
Schwab said a change in state law last year dictates that restaurants and hotels may have a "service charge" that is not distributed in full to the waitstaff as long as it's made clear to customers that it's not a "gratuity" solely for waitstaff.
Dick Grotton, president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association, said the state had been using the terms interchangeably, but that created conflict with federal law.
Under federal law, any amount charged to the bill that is not paid at the customer's discretion is property of the house that is taxable to the house.
Under the revised state law, if it's called a gratuity, all of it must go to the waitstaff, he said.
Grotton noted that banquets require employees in addition to waitstaff to perform tasks ranging from planning to set-up and break-down.
(c)2012 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)
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