Jeff Ruby responds to allegations in lawsuit from former employees over tips, wages

CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County resident and restaurateur Jeff Ruby is responding to allegations that two of his popular Tri-State restaurants cheated former employees out of tips and wages.

Three former employees are suing Ruby and his company Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment over claims they were forced to share their tips with managers and other employees who did not regularly receive tips – a practice called “tipping out.”

The federal lawsuit was filed Monday by Robert Ryan Lapinski, Jason Hamel and Steven Kende, who worked at Jeff Ruby’s Carlo & Johnny in Montgomery and Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse in downtown Cincinnati.

Ruby owns both restaurants and says the allegations aren't true.

"We invest a tremendous amount of resources into ensuring [our employees] have the necessary training, knowledge and experience to perform to the best of their ability," Ruby said in a blog post on his website Wednesday. "Simply put, our servers are the best in the business. Therefore, they are highly compensated."

Ruby claims the salaries of his employees average $65,000 a year, and each worker has a shift that averages seven hours a day.

But the lawsuit alleges Ruby's 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.

Ruby said those allegations are also false. He added that his team is his family and "I love them dearly."

"Because of my gratitude toward them, I pay one million per year out of my own pocket so every employee from dishwasher up has 100 percent company-paid health insurance coverage," Ruby said in the blog. "The billion dollar restaurant chains (including casinos) don’t provide the coverage I do."

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.

Ruby is a defendant in the lawsuit and currently owns six eateries in the Tri-State – one of which is currently being redeveloped in Covington .

Britney Ruby Miller, Ruby's daughter and a spokesperson for the restaurant group, also 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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