Class-action status has been granted a federal lawsuit filed in Minnesota contending that Domino's Pizza undercut delivery drivers' ability to earn the legally required minimum wage because the company doesn't reimburse them for travel expenses.

The ruling last week by Judge Donovan Frank means the suit can potentially cover 22,000 current and former Domino's drivers in nearly every state in the country, according to Nichols Kaster, the Minneapolis law firm representing the plaintiffs.

"The whole point of having a minimum wage statute is to ensure that people actually have the minimum wage in their pocket at the end of the workday," said E. Michelle Drake, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "Domino's puts money in drivers' pockets with one hand, and then takes it out with the other by requiring drivers to shoulder some of Domino's costs of doing business."

Drake said her firm has yet to determine precisely how far below minimum wage the drivers were in effect being paid, but she said she is confident that it is "by more than a trivial amount."

The suit, filed last year on behalf of two Domino's drivers in Minnesota, also claims that the company broke state law by keeping the delivery fee charged to customers.

Drake said that many customers mistakenly believe that the delivery charge -- which can range from $1 to $3 -- goes to the driver, meaning they "might not tip as much as they otherwise would."

The plaintiffs' counsel also represents pizza delivery drivers in two similar cases, one against Pizza Hut and another against Me-n-Ed's Pizzerias in California.

In court filings, Michigan-based Domino's has countered that the drivers' circumstances vary too widely to allow the case to be certified as class-action, among them type of car, routes, miles driven and geographic region.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482