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Class-action lawsuit filed against Iowa operator of Pizza Hut stores

Lawsuit is similar to claims filed against Domino’s and Casey’s General Stores
Pizza Hut
Posted at 2:23 PM, Jul 19, 2023

Another class-action lawsuit has been filed in federal court on behalf of food-delivery drivers, this time targeting a Pizza Hut operator based in Iowa.

The lawsuit, which is similar to those filed against Casey’s General Stores and Domino’s in recent years, was filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

As with the other lawsuits, the new filing alleges that food-delivery drivers who are paid near-minimum wage salaries are forced to “kick back” some of their pay to their employer in the form of uncompensated use of their personal vehicles – lowering their net pay to something less than the minimum wage.

Named as defendants are Comes Investments of West Des Moines, which owns and operates Pizza Hut locations in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin; and company owners Joseph Comes, Jill Comes, Mark Adams and Eric Broeker.

All delivery drivers employed at the company’s Pizza Hut stores have essentially the same job duties, delivering pizzas in return for wages and tips, and working inside the stores where they do not collect tips, according to the lawsuit. The workers are paid minimum wage or slightly more than minimum wage, the lawsuit claims, and are also required to maintain and pay for operable, safe vehicles to use in delivering the company’s pizza and other products.

The lawsuit alleges the company doesn’t compensate or “adequately reimburse” the drivers for costs such as vehicle depreciation, gasoline expenses, automobile maintenance, insurance, financing charges and registration costs.

The compensation received by the delivery drivers, after deducting the non-reimbursed expenses, results in the drivers receiving less than minimum wage for each hour worked, the lawsuit claims.

The named plaintiff in the case, Michele Lopez, worked as a delivery driver at a Pizza Hut located in Minnesota in 2020 and 2021. She averaged four deliveries per hour and regularly drove about seven miles for each delivery, according to the lawsuit.

Based on those numbers, as well as the federal government’s mileage reimbursement rate for that period of 57 cents per mile, the lawsuit claims Pizza Hut effectively reduced Lopez’s hourly wage while making deliveries by $16.10 per hour – creating a situation in which she kicked back to Pizza Hut more than she was being paid.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status to broaden the pool of plaintiffs in the case to include all current and former Minnesota delivery drivers employed by the Comes Investments for the past three to six years. The attorney who filed the case, Thomas Newkirk, is with the Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm of Des Moines.

The company has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

A similar lawsuit against Casey’s General Stores was filed in 2021 and was settled last year with the company agreeing to pay the one named defendant, Jolene Greever, $3,000. A separate lawsuit against Casey’s, filed in 2022 on behalf of delivery driver Derek Powell and others, is still pending in federal court. A 2021 lawsuit filed against Domino’s on behalf of driver Alexia Stevens and others was dismissed in 2022 with no public reference to any settlement.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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