of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
L. Marshall, Mark R. Bradford, Christine E. Hinrichs,
Bassford Remele, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for
E. Bushnell, Jeffrey M. Markowitz, Colin S. Seaborg, Arthur,
Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., Minneapolis,
Minnesota, for appellant.
Matthew A. Frank, Nichols Kaster, PLLP, Minneapolis,
Minnesota; Frances E. Baillon, Baillon Thome Joswiak &
Wanta LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Brian Rochel, Doug
Micko, Teske Micko Katz Kitzer & Rochel, PLLP,
Minneapolis, Minnesota for amicus curiae National Employment
Lawyers Association, Minnesota Chapter.
J. Douglas, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart,
P.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota; Joseph G. Schmitt, Peter D.
Gray, Veena A. Iyer, Nilan Johnson Lewis, P.A., Minneapolis,
Minnesota; and Alec J. Beck, Ford & Harrison LLP,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota
Management Attorney's Association.
C. Hauge, Meggen E. Lindsay, Brandon J. Wheeler, Felhaber
Larson, Minneapolis, Minnesota for amicus curiae Minnesota
employer violates Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 3 (2016),
when it terminates an employee for refusing to acquiesce in
the employer's requirement to share gratuities.
Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act, specifically Minn. Stat.
§ 177.27, subd. 8 (2016), expressly provides a private
cause of action for an employee who is discharged for
refusing to acquiesce in an employer's requirement to
Rackner, Inc. d/b/a Bunny's Bar & Grill challenges a
court of appeals' opinion reversing the dismissal of
respondent Todd Burt's complaint alleging a violation of
the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (MFLSA), Minn. Stat.
§§ 177.21-.35 (2016), for Rackner's decision to
terminate him for "not properly sharing his tips."
The issue presented is whether the MFLSA provides a private
cause of action for an employee who is discharged for
refusing to share gratuities. Because the plain language of
Minn. Stat. § 177.27, subd. 8, expressly provides such a
cause of action, we affirm.
employed Burt as a bartender from January 2007 to July 2014.
In December 2014, Burt sued Rackner, claiming that Rackner
terminated his employment in violation of Minn. Stat. §
177.24, subd. 3, which prohibits an employer from requiring
an employee to contribute or share a gratuity received by the
employee. The complaint alleged the following. At some point
before the termination, Burt was told "that he needed to
give more of his tips to the bussers, and that there would be
consequences if that did not happen." Burt did not
follow this directive. On July 21, 2014, Burt met with the
co-owners of Rackner, who informed Burt that "he was
being terminated because [he] was not properly sharing his
tips with other staff." After the termination, Burt was
"unable to find other employment."
answered the complaint and moved for judgment on the
pleadings. The district court dismissed the complaint,
concluding that the MFLSA "does not contemplate an
action for wrongful discharge" because the statute does
not contain specific language prohibiting an employer from
discharging an employee for refusing to share tips. Relying
on our decision in Dukowitz v. Hannon Sec. Servs.,
841 N.W.2d 147 (Minn. 2014), the district court stated that
"if the Legislature had intended for employees [to] be
able to sue for wrongful discharge, it would have included
that language explicitly in the MFLSA." Absent language
to that effect, the district court refused to recognize a
wrongful-discharge cause of action.
court of appeals reversed, concluding that the MFLSA
"unambiguously provides that the employee may seek
wrongful-discharge damages, including back pay and other
appropriate relief as provided by law." Burt v.
Rackner, Inc., 882 N.W.2d 627, 628 (Minn.App. 2016). The
court of appeals noted that Minn. Stat. § 177.27, subd.
8, unambiguously provides that "[a]n employee may bring
a civil action seeking redress for a violation . . . of
sections 177.21 to 177.44, " which "broadly applies
to any violation of the MFLSA, including a violation of [the
tip-sharing provision in MFLSA]." Burt, 882
N.W.2d at 631-32. The court of appeals further observed that
"[t]he statute also broadly permits a wronged employee
to 'seek damages and other appropriate relief . . . as
otherwise provided by law.' " Id. at 632
(quoting Minn. Stat. § 177.27, subd. 8). Accordingly,
the court concluded that Burt's complaint "states a
claim upon which relief can be granted" and remanded to
the district court for further proceedings. Id. at
granted Rackner's petition for review and the amicus
motions of the Minnesota Restaurant Association, the
Minnesota Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers
Association, and the Minnesota Management Attorney's
appeal from a grant of a motion for judgment on the pleadings
under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.03, we "consider only the
facts alleged in the complaint, accepting those facts as true
and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party." Zutz v. Nelson, 788 N.W.2d
58, 61 (Minn. 2010). We review a district court's
decision on a Rule 12.03 motion de novo to determine whether
"the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for
relief." Id. (quoting Bodah v. Lakeville
Motor Express, Inc., 663 N.W.2d 550, 553 (Minn.
2003)). Whether a statute provides a private cause of action
also presents a question of statutory interpretation that we
review de novo. Larson v. Nw. Mut. Life Ins. Co.,
855 N.W.2d 293, 301 (Minn. 2014).
issue is whether the MFLSA provides a cause of action for an
employee who is terminated for failing to share gratuities.
Rackner argues that the MFLSA does not provide such a cause
of action because (1) although the statute prohibits an
employer from requiring an employee to share gratuities, it
does not prohibit an employer from discharging an employee
who refuses to do so, and (2) the statute does not contain
any language that specifically allows an employee to sue for
wrongful discharge in the context of tip sharing. By
contrast, Burt contends that he may sue under the MFLSA
because an employer violates Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd.
3, when it discharges an employee for refusing to share tips,
and Minn. Stat. § 177.27, subd. 8, allows an employee to
sue for any violation of the statute, including a violation
of Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 3.
agree with Burt, and hold that the language of the MFLSA
expressly provides a cause of action for an employee who is
terminated for failing to share tips. We consider each of
Rackner's arguments in turn.
first contends that Burt does not have a claim under the
MFLSA because, although Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 3,
forbids an employer from requiring employees to contribute or
share gratuities, it does not prohibit employers from
terminating employees who refuse to share tips. Rackner also
maintains that Burt was not harmed by the requirement to
share tips because he did not lose any tips; "indeed,
the act of terminating [Burt] deprived [Rackner] of the power
to compel, require, or coerce him to do anything." We
first step in statutory interpretation is to determine
whether the statute's language, on its face, is
ambiguous." Christianson v. Henke, 831 N.W.2d
532, 536 (Minn. 2013) (citation omitted) (internal quotation
marks omitted). "A statute is only ambiguous if its
language is subject to more than one reasonable
interpretation." Id. at 537. In interpreting a
statute, we give words and phrases "their plain and
ordinary meaning." In re Welfare of J.J.P., 831
N.W.2d 260, 264 (Minn. 2013).
Statutes § 177.24, subd. 3, provides, in relevant part:
"No employer may require an employee to
contribute or share a gratuity." (Emphasis added.) The
provision also states that although an employee may
voluntarily agree to share gratuities, the agreement
"must be made by the employees without employer
coercion or participation." Id. (emphasis
parties agree that this provision is unambiguous. And as Burt
correctly states, to "require" means "[t]o
impose an obligation on." The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language 1492 (5th ed.);
see, e.g., Larson v. Nw. Mut. Life Ins.
Co., 855 N.W.2d 293, 301 (Minn. 2014) ("We construe
nontechnical words and phrases according to their plain and
ordinary meanings and we often look to dictionary definitions
to determine the plain meanings of words.") (citation
omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). In everyday
language, threatening to terminate an employee for failing ...