WILLIAMSTOWN -- Dozens of servers, waitstaff and bartenders at Williams College will be reimbursed for tips that they claimed were withheld by the college from December 2009 through October 2012.

Under a settlement that was approved on Jan. 29 by Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel Ford, the college will pay $86,000 into a fund for distribution to the 58 current and former employees of the Williams College Catering and Dining Services departments.

Individual awards, which have been mailed, range from $40 to $6,000, depending on how many hours an employee worked.

The employees, who worked on functions or events where a mandatory service charge was collected by Williams College, filed a class-action lawsuit seeking recovery of gratuities required by state law to be paid to workers but withheld by the college.

The original complaint was filed in December 2012, said the attorney for the employees, Paul Holtzman of the Krokidas & Bluestein firm in Boston. The lead plaintiff was Bruce Pierce of North Adams, employed as a waitstaff member during the summer of 2011.

According to the amended complaint filed on Sept. 10, 2013, the employees contended that Williams College "has engaged in a longstanding pattern of wrongfully depriving servers, bartenders and other waitstaff employees of service charges, gratuities, tips or service fees."

The complaint outlined the college's employment of dozens of staffers paid hourly to provide food, beverages and other catering services at off-campus or non-college events.

A 15 percent service charge was collected from patrons, who were told that the money would be given as a gratuity to the employees, the court document stated.

The complaint alleged that the college failed to pay the gratuities to the employees and "instead has a policy and practice of unlawfully retaining the service charges." The result was to deprive the employees of wages to which they're entitled, the complaint noted.

"The defendant's longstanding violations were undertaken with reckless disregard or indifference as to the lawfulness of its conduct and/or the rights of its employees," the complaint contended. It also noted that the plaintiffs had filed a nonpayment of wage complaint with Attorney General Martha Coakley's office.

Under the terms of the settlement, Williams College "denies any liability or wrongdoing of any kind and asserts that its pay practices complied with legal requirements." The college also maintained that it paid all legally required gratuities to the employees.

A college spokesman told The Eagle there would be no further comment.

In a statement on Thursday, attorney Holtzman commended the college for "reaching a prompt and fair resolution to ensure that the catering staff received the service charges they worked so hard for."

He said that his firm also has seen issues with tips and service charges at "catering companies, resorts, country clubs and hotels."

The out-of-court settlement with the college was the fifth Berkshire County case involving non-payment of tips since 2008.

After both sides agreed to pursue a settlement, hundreds of pages of documents produced by the college were reviewed during "arms-length, comprehensive negotiations."

According to the agreement, the law firm representing the employees was paid $21,500, or one-fourth of the total settlement. The workers may be required to pay income taxes on the checks they receive.

If they have questions, current or former employees involved in the class-action suit may call attorney Paul Holtzman at (617) 482-7211.

To contact Clarence Fanto:

cfanto@yahoo.com

or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


Previous settlements ...

Here is a list of recent settlements in the Berkshire hospitality industry involving court cases filed by employees alleging non-payment of tips by their employers.

Canyon Ranch, Lenox: $14.75 million, February 2008.

Cranwell Resort, Lenox: $7 million, November 2011.

Crowne Plaza Hotel, Pittsfield: $1.3 million, February 2012.

Orchards Hotel, Williamstown: $240,000, July 2010.

Williams College, Williamstown: $86,000, January 2014.

A portion of the totals listed represent legal fees paid to the Krokidas and Bluestein law firm in Boston, which represented the employees covered by the class-action suits.

Source: Eagle archives