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Suits Target Tips, Horse Massage

A suit on tipped employees ends as a case on, uh, equine therapy begins.

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Horse massage suit filed (you read that correctly)
A lawsuit filed last week seeks to protect horse massage (and those who can legally do it) in Tennessee.

The Beacon Center, a free market think tank in Nashville, filed the suit against the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. The board recently dictated that horse massage can be done only by a licensed veterinarian.

Two Nashville-area horse trainers, Martha Stowe and Laurie Wheeler, had been practicing horse massage on Stowe's farm in Franklin. They both got cease-and-desist letters from the state vet board in April. The Beacon Center said the two were subjected to fines and even jail time if they continued to practice horse massage.

"I can't hurt a horse by doing mayofascial release [the form of massage used on horses]," Stowe said in a YouTube video. "I'm not treating. I'm not diagnosing any kind of illness."

Officials with the center called the board's move "unconstitutional." Then, it gave the board two weeks to rescind the rule before filing the suit. The law is excessive, the center said, and restricts Stowe's and Wheeler's livelihoods.

"Both the U.S. Constitution and Tennessee Constitution protect the right to earn a living, meaning individuals have a right to pursue a chosen business or profession free from arbitrary or excessive government interference," said Braden Boucek, the Beacon Center's litigation director. "This regulation clearly runs afoul of that right. The vet board is now requiring a license to rub a horse. It is time we stop criminalizing compassion. What's next, a license to pet your dog or feed your cat?"

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Servers can't sue for tips
Food service workers in Tennessee cannot sue their employer for illegally distributing tips to non-tipped employees, according to a ruling last week from the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Kim Hardy was a server and bartender at the Tournament Players Club (TPC) at Southwind. Customers at the club were charged a mandatory tip in its bars and restaurants. Hardy noticed that the club distributed those tips to non-tipped employees, including those in the kitchen and in management.

Hardy sued TPC in 2014, claiming the club owed her damages because it "knowingly, willfully, fraudulently, maliciously, and/or with reckless disregard failed to pay her and other similarly situated employees all of the tips" they were owed.

A Memphis trial court dismissed her claim, noting that a private employee had no explicit right to file such a suit, according to the Tennessee Tip Statute. Hardy won an appeal in 2015, but the state Supreme Court agreed with the original ruling in its opinion last week and dismissed the case.

"[The appeals court] recognized that the Tip Statute did not say directly that a food service employee such as Ms. Hardy could file a lawsuit seeking damages for violation of the law," according to a statement last week from the Tennessee Supreme Court.

However, the Supreme Court based its ruling on state law. That law was changed in 2013 to explicitly deny a private citizen, like Hardy, from filing such a lawsuit. Such matters are to be handled by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, according to the law. The court noted that businesses breaking the law could be charged with a misdemeanor.

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