Restaurant workers often complain that their employers skim some money off of the tips they make. A fired former manager at Chickie's & Pete's alleges the sports bar chain did just that -- and says it cost her job.

 

The woman has filed suit claiming she was fired after talking to U.S. Department of Labor investigators, but the company says her dismissal was unrelated.

A spokesman for the restaurant chain, Kevin Feeley, said the firing of Sharon Chase of Absecon, N.J., had no relationship to her conversations with the Department of Labor.

"We disagree with the allegations in the lawsuit. We believe that they are unfounded and we plan to vigorously defend against them in federal court, when the opportunity arises," he said.

Chase did sign a termination agreement in January of this year, which the company provided to WHYY. It says that Chase was fired for "insubordination" and "improper charging of catering events."

Chase now alleges the real reason was her conversations with federal investigators. Employees have accused Chickies & Pete's of unlawfully taking credit card fees out of their tips. The chain has 10 permanent locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Chase worked in the Egg Harbor, N.J., location.

The practice of skimming tips is illegal, though "very prevalent, especially in lower-wage industries," says Tsedeye Gebreselassie of the National Employment Law Project.

Employers are allowed to pay as little as $2.15 an hour to workers who get tips, but the idea behind that is that the full tip belongs to the workers. Thirty percent of low-wage survey respondents in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles reported they told NELP that they had experienced tip theft.

Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney's office received complaints from Chickies & Pete's staff over tip skimming before City Council passed a regulation banning the practice in 2011.