Support local journalism. Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fight over automatic tipping at Florida restaurants moves ahead

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2020 at 1:25 PM

  • Screenshot via Google Maps
A federal appeals court Tuesday cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit alleging that restaurants at Ritz-Carlton hotels in Florida did not give proper notice before tacking on automatic tips to diners’ bills.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned major parts of a district judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit, filed by a New York resident who saw 18 percent gratuities added to his bills at three Ritz-Carlton restaurants in Key Biscayne.

The plaintiff, Michael Fox, contended that one bill did not mention an automatic tip was being added, while two others said “suggested” 18 percent gratuities would be added – though the bills included the tip amounts. He filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of diners who paid such gratuities at Ritz-Carlton restaurants throughout the state and alleged, in part, that the hotel company violated a law known as the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, according to Tuesday’s ruling.
In dismissing the case, the district judge found that Fox did not have legal standing to sue on behalf of diners at restaurants that he did not visit and that his claims did not meet a $5 million threshold for class-action lawsuits. The district judge also dismissed a claim for a sales-tax refund, finding that Fox had not properly gone through an administrative process.

But the three-judge panel Tuesday overturned the parts of the ruling dealing with legal standing and the $5 million threshold and sent the case back to the lower court.

The ruling said Fox alleged that Ritz-Carlton used the same practices at 49 restaurants across the state over a four-year period and that potential class members were affected in the same way.

“Fox and the class members have suffered the same economic injury from Ritz-Carlton’s gratuity and sales tax practices across its properties in Florida,” said the 22-page ruling, written by Judge Robert Luck and joined by Judges Ed Carnes and Stanley Marcus. “While those injuries may have occurred on different days at different restaurants, those facts do not change what injuries Fox alleged those class members suffered.”

The panel also said Fox alleged in “good faith” that the total amount of disputed money topped $5 million.

“Even though class members may have overpaid only some percentage of the total bill each time they ate at the hotel’s Florida restaurants, added up over hundreds of thousands of customers across four years at 10 Ritz-Carlton hotels and 49 restaurants, we do not need to suspend reality to conclude that the overpayment was more than $5 million,” the ruling said.

The panel, however, agreed with the district judge’s dismissal of Fox’s claim for a sales-tax refund because of a failure to “exhaust his administrative remedies.”

Please follow CDC guidelines and Orange County advisories to stay safe, and please support this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Central Florida. Please consider making a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit helps.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 12, 2022

View more issues


© 2022 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation