Department of Labor accuses Rockwell Beer Co. of violating federal labor standards by letting manager take tips

A union contract would have prevented that

Managing Editor

ROCKWELL BEER CO’S beer garden at Francis Park is seen in 2021. – Promotional photo from Rockwell Beer Co.

The U.S. Department of Labor is accusing St. Louis brewery Rockwell Beer Co. of violating federal labor standards by allowing a former salaried employee to take tips from the tip pool for hourly employees.

The Labor Department’s suit, filed Oct. 27  in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleges several violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. It also claims the tip pool violations resulted in the brewery failing to pay bartenders minimum wage and time-and-a-half for hours worked over 40 in a workweek and that it failed to keep required records.

Kim Bartholomew, president of UNITE HERE Local 74, which represents hotel and restaurant workers, says a union contract would have prohibited the tip-pooling practice and protected the workers from abuse.

“Nobody in any of our contracts tip-pools,” Bartholomew said. “If tips are received, they’re owned by the people who receive them.

“The Department of Labor says tips can only be split with front-facing employees, not the back end kitchen staff or supervisors. We make sure we have language that includes that in all of our contracts. For catering and banquet workers, most have a 25 percent gratuity added to their bill and that’s where those employees get their tips.”

“If they don’t have a contract, there’s nothing we can do for them,” Bartholomew said. “If we do have a contract, we make sure that language is included and we have the right to audit” to make sure the employer is abiding by the rules.

In addition to the brewery, the Department of Labor suit names as defendants Rockwell co-founders Christopher Hulse and Heather Sanders; a related entity, RBC Management; and RBG Biergarten, an entity tied to the Francis Park location the brewery opened last year.

The alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act include:

  • Improperly keeping tips from employees by letting the (now former) director of hospitality for its original location and its beer garden in Francis Park in St. Louis Hills take part in its bartenders’ tip-pooling arrangement.
    As a salaried employee, the suit claims, the director of hospitality was not a “customarily or regularly” tipped employee eligible for a tip pool.
  • Failing to pay bartenders minimum wage and time-and-a-half for hours worked over 40 in a workweek as a result of the tip pool violations.
  • Improperly claiming tip credit. Generally, employers can pay tipped employees an hourly wage (the tipped minimum) lower than the standard minimum wage, with the expectation that tips will make up the difference between the two wages. Employers then claim this difference as the tip credit toward the legal requirement to pay minimum wage.

The suit further alleges that because Rockwell’s tip pool violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, the brewery could not claim a tip credit and thus failed to pay its bartenders the minimum wage — a separate violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

  • Failing to keep required records. The Labor Department suit seeks an order for Rockwell to pay back wages and damages to 48 employees identified in the suit, as well as to other employees the department does not yet know about. It is unclear from court records whether any of those 48 employees currently work for Rockwell.

The alleged violations were identified in a Labor Department review of Rockwell’s employment and pay practices from Feb. 16, 2020 through Feb. 15, 2022.

Rockwell opened its brewery and tasting room at 1320 S. Vandeventer Avenue in November 2018. The Francis Park beer garden opened in October 2021.


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