Lawsuit: Jeff Ruby eateries took tips from staff

CINCINNATI -- Three former employees are suing a popular Cincinnati restaurant group over claims they were cheated out of their tips and wages.

According to a federal lawsuit filed Monday, Robert Ryan Lapinski, Jason Hamel and Steven Kende allege that Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment forced wait staff at two of its restaurants to share tips with managers and other employees who did not regularly receive tips – a practice called “tipping out.”

Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment owns and operates Jeff Ruby’s Carlo & Johnny in Montgomery and Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse in downtown Cincinnati where the defendants worked.

The lawsuit also alleges the employees received less than standard minimum wage because of the “tip sharing” rule.

Attorneys say the high-end restaurant group violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires wait staff to retain their own tips.

The lawsuit claims the tip policy ended in August of 2012, but the three employees are fighting to recoup tip money they say they earned but never received beginning in 2010.

Lawyers also aim to recover wages the employees allegedly did not receive in base pay, as well as legal fees and an unspecified amount in damages.

Lapinski lives in Cincinnati and was employed by Jeff Ruby Steakhouse as a member of the wait staff from March 2010 to June 2013.

Hamel, who lives in Independence, Ky., was employed by Carlo & Johnny’s as a waiter and bartender from 2002 to February 2013.

Kende now resides in Dade County, Fla., and was employed by Carlo & Johnny’s as a waiter and bartender from 2001 until 2003 and then again from 2005 until April 2013.

Jeff Ruby, who lives in Hamilton County, owns Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment and is a defendant in the lawsuit. Ruby currently owns six eateries in the Tri-State – one of which is currently being redeveloped in Covington – and is considered one of the nation's preeminent restaurateurs.

Britney Ruby Miller, Ruby's daughter and a spokesperson for the restaurant group, said the company has not been served a lawsuit as of Tuesday afternoon.

Miller defended the company against the allegations in a statement to WCPO Tuesday.

"We've got the best employees in the world. We take really good care of them," she said. "We've got a solid team and with any large corporation there are going to be some disgruntled employees. We look forward to defending ourselves in court."

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