Domino's drivers take pay complaints to court
A lawsuit over the way Domino's pays its delivery drivers may impact the way other pizza companies do business.
As if Domino's Pizza didn't have enough problems lately, last month two of the company's former delivery drivers filed a class action lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the District of Minnesota. The lawsuit alleges that Domino's violated state and federal law by failing to reimburse employees for expenses they incurred while delivering pizzas.
According to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by Pizza Marketplace, the plaintiffs allege that Domino's failed to adequately reimburse its drivers, instead paying a "per delivery" amount which was not sufficient to cover drivers' actual costs and resulted in drivers being paid less than minimum wage.
Click here to download a copy of the court filing.
Attorneys with Minneapolis-based law firm Nichols Kaster PLLP, which is representing the plaintiffs, said Domino's is expected to file its response to the suit sometime this week. Beyond that, how quickly things might progress is unclear.
"It's almost impossible to say," said E. Michelle Drake, one of the attorneys representing plaintiffs in the case. "We are so early in the litigation timeline that there hasn't been a scheduling order issued yet by the judge."
Other than to say the company doesn't believe the suit has merit, Domino's generally don't comment on pending litigation, said Tim McIntyre, spokesman for the pizza chain.
The suit was filed on behalf of one current and one former Domino's delivery driver. In total, seven drivers or former drivers have signed on thus far, Drake said, although she expects that number to increase.
"Because we are so early in the litigation, no notice has been sent out," she said.
"The court hasn't approved it for collective action certification at this point, so the only people who are opting in are people who hear about the lawsuit either from our office or because they read an article about it," she said. "If the court approves it then we would be able to send notice to everyone who was affected."
Suit could affect drivers, franchisees around the county
Delivery drivers generally are paid in a combination of an hourly wage, a mileage reimbursement and tips, which can add up to $10 an hour or more. Out of that, though, drivers pay for their own gasoline, car maintenance and insurance.   The mileage reimbursement, or "run money," paid to drivers varies from store to store, even within pizzeria brands. Reimbursements generally range from 75 cents to $1.25 per delivery, depending on the operation.
Also, some operators have begun paying delivery drivers via a "tip credit" system similar to the way restaurant servers are paid. In those cases, drivers are paid less than the current federal minimum wage of $6.55 while they are on deliveries, with tip earnings credited as making up the difference.
There are two different components to the Minnesota suit, Drake said. The first component would require drivers or former drivers to opt in to participate.
"There are claims made under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act," she said. "Those claims are made on behalf of a nationwide group of people. Anyone from around the country who was a Domino's driver can elect to opt into the suit."
The suit alleges that, based on the number of miles a driver travels while delivering pizzas, their hourly wage, tips and run money, minus gas, insurance and maintenance, come out to be less than the minimum wage.
"Randy," a former Domino's delivery driver from Texas who isn't party to the suit, described the issue in this fashion:
"Last summer I worked for a Dominos franchise, making $5.15 hour via the tip credit, and $1.15 per drop," he said. "Problem was, Dominos delivery area is huge. In one direction we went 10 miles to a nearby town. Sometimes I'd take a single run out there and be presented with a check for the exact price of the order." 
When that happened, Randy said, he would miss out on the opportunity to take several deliveries during that time period, drive 20 miles round-trip in a car averaging 22 miles per gallon, and still be "credited" with a tip of $1.40 to meet the federal minimum wage of $6.55. All this at a time when gas cost $4 a gallon.   Randy estimated that he averaged $7.50 per hour after gas expenses, but before subtracting maintenance costs and taxes. 
"Not exactly the kind of hazard pay you'd expect to make for risking car accidents, vehicle breakdowns, and of course robbery or assault when you go to (a rough neighborhood) late at night with a giant sign reading "I'M CARRYING CASH" brightly displayed on top of your car," he said. "I still made more than minimum wage, at least in the short term, but it wasn't worth the risk at all."   There is also a second set of claims in the lawsuit that apply only to people who are in Minnesota, under the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards act, which are procedurally a bit different, Drake said. People affected by those claims fall under what's known as the "Rule 23" class.
"In those types of cases, people don't actually have to do anything to opt in," she said. "If the court allows it to proceed as a class action, people are in unless they affirmatively opt out."
Those claims relate in particular to the delivery charges Domino's adds to the price of a pizza. Under Minnesota law, service charges are considered gratuities, Drake said, and as such they are the property of the employee
"By retaining those amounts, our position in the lawsuit is that Domino's has violated the law," she said.
Previous suits had little impact
Should the suit against Domino's be successful, other pizza companies may end up in the crosshairs. However,  cases in California and elsewhere haven't resulted in sweeping changes in the way delivery drivers are reimbursed.
For example, a similar lawsuit filed in 2004 against Pizza Hut in Los Angeles County Superior Court by a group of former delivery drivers was settled out of court. Pizza Hut agreed to pay $5.1 million to class members in return for dropping the suit.
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And Randy pointed out that if drivers are dissatisfied with working conditions, they are always free to go to another company, as he did.
"I empathize with the drivers in Minnesota who are suing Dominos and I'd like to see the same thing happen here in Texas, but I think everyone ought to remember you always have the freedom to tell your boss to "take this job and shove it, I ain't working here no more," Randy said. "If everyone could do that, we wouldn't have problems with substandard wages."

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