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Bikini Beans Espresso drive through coffee shop in Phoenix on Aug 3, 2020. (Photo: Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic)

Bikini Beans Coffee, a Valley coffee shop chain owned by Ben and Regina Lyles, is being sued under both state and federal law for allegedly failing to pay employees properly.  

In a lawsuit filed on July 30, the plaintiffs allege the company failed to pay employees proper minimum and overtime wages according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and Arizona Minimum Wage Act. 

Former Bikini Beans manager Valerie Valle and former barista Keely Siegel are plaintiffs on the class and collective action lawsuit and are represented by the Bendau Law Firm, PLLC.  

“I feel very confident that we’re going to help these women recover wages that are rightfully owed to them,” said Cliff Bendau, the attorney representing the former Bikini Beans employees in an interview with the Arizona Republic. 

Ben and Regina Lyles opened the first location of Bikini Beans, a drive-through coffee shop staffed by bikini-wearing baristas, in 2014. Currently, there are four locations in Phoenix, Mesa, Peoria and Tempe. 

How a viral tweet prompted employees to speak out

Valle raised concerns about the company in a viral tweet on June 29, which prompted numerous former employees to share their stories about working for the company on social media.

In response, Lyles’ attorney Benjamin Gottlieb at MacQueen and Gottlieb, PLC sent Valle a “demand to immediately cease and desist social media comments” on June 30.  

According to the copy of the letter provided to the Arizona Republic, the correspondence was sent to Valle because the Bikini Beans standard operation procedure document, which all employees are required to sign, contains a social media clause that states an employee must “not bash the company’s name or reputation during or after employment.”

The letter asks for Valle to remove the social media posts, which she has not done. 

In the 48-page lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court of the District of Arizona, the plaintiffs make numerous allegations against the company, including allegations of the owners punishing employees for lateness by not allowing them to keep their earned tips, which is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act according to the lawsuit. 

Other alleged violations include Bikini Beans “policy and practice” of charging baristas a $300 training fee that would be deducted from the employee’s final paycheck if she did not complete 180 days of employment at the company or was terminated for any reason. The lawsuit states that Siegel did not receive her final paycheck because of this company policy.  

A copy of Bikini Beans Coffee standard operating procedures provided to the Arizona Republic by a former employee corroborates the lawsuit’s statement that the business did have a policy to charge $300 for training under certain circumstances and would “withhold incentives” like tips “at any time” including for lateness.  

The lawsuit alleges managers were subject to an even higher training fee of $1200 that could be deducted from the employee’s final paycheck if the employee did not work at Bikini Beans for a year or was terminated. Valle did not receive her final paycheck for this reason according to the lawsuit. 

What other allegations are in the lawsuit against Bikini Beans? 

The lawsuit details the allegation that employees were required to attend “mandatory” meetings and “house parties” outside of scheduled shift time without pay or overtime. 

Plaintiffs also allege they were required to wear Bikini Beans-specific bikinis, which employees either had to pay for out-of-pocket or have the cost deducted from their paycheck. The lawsuit notes this as a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act because the deduction to purchase the uniform brings the employee’s pay below minimum wage. 

“This particular lawsuit seeks to recover wages on behalf of baristas and managers who experience similar treatment.”  

While there are two named plaintiffs, Bendau said, additional former employees have joined the lawsuit. “At this point in time, we encourage any individual who worked for Bikini Beans in the last three years as either a barista or a manager to contact us and we can facilitate their joining the case” Bendau said. 

In response to the allegations in the lawsuit, Bikini Beans spokesperson Steve Webster issued a statement:

“While we don’t normally comment on pending litigation, Bikini Beans is a business of integrity and a business that our customers love. We value all our employees and offer a generous compensation package with a minimum base wage of $10 plus tips which allows all our employees to make significantly more than the state and federal minimum wage. We believe this case brought by a group of former employees is without merit and we look forward to our day in court where we fully expect to be victorious.”

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Reach the reporter at Shaena.Montanari@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @DrShaena.

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