The California Supreme Court Reiterates Analysis for Determining Whether a Statutory Violation Confers a Private Cause of Action
Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion in Lu v. Hawaiian Gardens Casino, Inc., in which the high court found that a specific Labor Code provision could not be enforced by private litigants. This opinion is important in that it reiterates important cases and analyses that can be used to defeat a plaintiff’s attempt to set forth a private cause of action where no such right was intended by the legislature. Unfortunately, however, the Supreme Court declined to further address the question of whether a statute that cannot independently confer a private cause of action can still be utilized as a predicate for a cause of action under the “unlawful” prong of the Unfair Competition Laws (“UCL”).
Louie Lu (“Lu”) was a card dealer at the Hawaiian Islands Casino in Southern California. As a dealer, he was provided tips. However, not all of the tips were his to keep. Instead, he was required to provide 15% to 20% of his tips to a community fund that was then split among other employees who were offering services to the card players, but were not as routinely tipped as the dealers (i.e., floormen, poker tournament coordinators, concierges, etc.)
The tip pool policy specifically prohibited managers and supervisors from receiving any money from the pool. This exclusion of managerial persons from sharing in the tips is important, as Labor Code Section 351 prohibits an employer from taking, collecting or receiving employees’ tips. However, California courts have long-held that the pooling of tips to be split amongst like-situated employees, such as waiters and waitresses on the same shift, is not a violation of Section 351. Similarly, courts have held that the pooling of tips in the casino setting when those tips are spread among the non-managerial staff is perfectly acceptable and not a violation of Section 351. Lu contended that “agents” of the casino (presumably managerial employees) were improperly sharing in the pooled tips, and set forth causes of action for violation of Section 351 and Section 17200 of the UCL.Continue Reading...