Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), as amended in 1974, an employer may fulfill part of its hourly minimum wage obligation to a tipped employee with the employee’s tips. 29 U.S.C. § 203(m). This practice is known as taking a “tip credit.” Section 203(m) of the FLSA obligates employers who take a tip credit to (1) give notice to its employees, and (2) allow its employees to retain all the tips they receive, unless such employees participate in a valid tip pool. Id. Under section 203(m), a tip pool is valid if it is comprised exclusively of employees who are “customarily and regularly” tipped. Id.
In both cases before this court, Employer-Appellees did not take a tip credit against their minimum wage obligation; they paid their tipped employees at least the federal minimum wage. Employer-Appellees required their employees to participate in tip pools. Unlike the tip pools contemplated by section 203(m), however, these tip pools were comprised of both customarily tipped employees and non-customarily tipped employees.
In 2010, we held in Cumbie v. Woody Woo, Inc. [discussed here] that this type of tip pooling arrangement does not violate section 203(m) of the FLSA, because section 203(m) was silent as to employers who do not take a tip credit. 596 F.3d 577, 583 (9th Cir. 2010). In 2011, shortly after Cumbie was decided, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) promulgated a formal rule (“the 2011 rule”) that extended the tip pool restrictions of section 203(m) to all employers, not just those who take a tip credit. 76 Fed. Reg. 18,832, 18,841–42 (April 5, 2011).
The United States District Court for the District of Oregon held that Cumbie foreclosed the DOL’s ability to promulgate the 2011 rule and that the 2011 rule was invalid because it was contrary to Congress’s clear intent. Or. Rest. & Lodging v. Solis, 948 F. Supp. 2d 1217, 1218, 1226 (D. Or. 2013). The United States District Court for the District of Nevada followed suit. Cesarz v. Wynn Las Vegas, LLC, No. 2:13-cv-00109-RCJ-CWH, 2014 WL 117579, at *3 (D. Nev. Jan. 10, 2014). For the reasons set forth below, we reverse both district court decisions.
In other words, under the 2011 DOL rule, a tip pool is valid only if it is comprised exclusively of employees who are “customarily and regularly” tipped, whether the employer takes a tip credit or not. The opinion is available here.