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Left to right: Matthew Frank, Steven Andrew Smith and Brian Ranwick.

Attorneys of the Year: Surly Legal Team

Steven Andrew Smith is a Circle of Excellence Attorney of the Year.

Matthew Frank and Steven Andrew Smith are Circle of Excellence Attorneys of the Year.

Until recently, “tip pooling” was an expression seldom heard outside of bars or restaurants. But that practice — in which employees pool their tips and share them with other employees who normally don’t get tipped — was at the center of a dispute with one of the Twin Cities’ most well-known brewers.

James Conlon, a bartender at the Surly Brewing Co. taproom in St. Paul, sued, saying that Surly forced him and other employees to pool their tips. The suit accused Surly of violating the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits such actions.

The Conlon case turned into a class action that included about 100 Surly bartenders and servers who had worked at the taproom since when it opened in late 2014. “As we heard from more and more [employees], it became clear that we would have to pick a bigger fight,” said Nichols Kaster partner Steven Andrew Smith.

Joining Smith on the legal team were Matthew Frank (Nichols Kaster) and Brian Ranwick (Ranwick Law).

In July, Hennepin County District Court Judge Karen Janisch found for the employees. The court held that the law prohibits employer participation in tip pooling, which encompasses an employer’s involvement in how a tip-pool arrangement is decided on or adopted by employees.

The settlement eventually reached between the plaintiffs and Surly was for $2.5 million, pending court approval, thought to be the largest settlement related to tip pooling in Minnesota.

About Dan Heilman

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