Settlement in works over claims Overland Park-based Jose Pepper’s denied minimum wage and overtime to servers

The lead plaintiff in the case against the Mexican restaurant chain also claimed servers were asked to work only for tips during the COVID-19 pandemic, asked to spend more than 20% of their working time on non-tipped work and required to share tips with non-tipped workers. Above, a Jose Pepper's location in Mission. Photo credit Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3.

By Dan Margolies 

A federal judge rejected a proposed $1.75 million settlement to resolve claims by servers at Overland Park-based Jose Pepper’s that they were denied minimum wage and overtime, and were required to work before clocking in.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Angel Mitchell, however, did agree to certify the case as a collective action under federal labor law. That means close to 2,000 current and former servers at the dozen Jose Pepper’s restaurants in Kansas and Missouri may benefit from any settlement she does eventually approve.

In a 29-page ruling, Mitchell said that the lead plaintiff, Kira Florece, had not provided enough information for the court to evaluate whether the settlement agreement adequately compensates the servers.

Florece, a resident of Peculiar, Mo., sued the popular Mexican-American restaurant chain 13 months ago on behalf of her fellow servers, alleging servers were allowed to work overtime only if they didn’t clock in, asked to report overtime under other employees’ names and had their reported overtime hours removed from the timekeeping system.

She also claimed servers were asked to work only for tips during the COVID-19 pandemic, asked to spend more than 20% of their working time on non-tipped work and required to share tips with non-tipped workers.

In court documents, Jose Pepper’s disputed owing any unpaid minimum wage or overtime compensation. It said it trained servers on its pay and timekeeping policies, and its payroll data show that servers recorded and received overtime pay.

Brendan Donelon, one of Florece’s attorneys, said both sides had agreed not to comment on the case.

Florece, who worked as a server at Jose Pepper’s in Belton, Mo., could not be reached for comment.

Under the proposed settlement, lawyers representing the plaintiffs would receive $577,500. After other fees are deducted, the servers would receive nearly $1.14 million.

Jose Pepper’s was founded by Ed Gieselman in 1988. Beginning with a single restaurant in Overland Park, it has since grown to include locations throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area, Topeka and Wichita. The restaurant’s corporate office is in Overland Park.

KCUR 89.3 is Kansas City’s NPR affiliate public radio station. You can read and listen to more of their reporting at kcur.org.