Category Archives: Wage Theft

11th Cir.: Following Tender of Unpaid Wages and Liquidated Damages, an Employer Only Moots a Case if the Plaintiff Agrees to Dismissal, Absent Payment of Mandatory Fees and Costs

Dionne v. Floormasters Enterprises, Inc.

Following a controversial opinion that created more questions than it answered, the Eleventh Circuit reconsidered it’s prior Opinion in this case and in so doing largely restricted its holding to the unique facts presented in the case.  Previously the Court had held that  an employer, who denies liability for nonpayment for overtime work, need not pay attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) if the employer tenders the full amount of overtime pay claimed by an employee, and moves to dismiss on mootness grounds where the employee concedes that “the claim for overtime should be dismissed as moot.  Although the prior Opinion seemed restricted to these unique facts where the employee conceded that the overtime claim should be dismissed (but attempted to reserve as to fees/costs), courts throughout the Eleventh have since expanded the holding to scenarios where the employee makes no such stipulation.  Here, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the prior decision, but clarified and limited its applicability.

Significantly, the Eleventh Circuit included the following footnote in its new Opinion:

“Our decision in this matter addresses a very narrow question: whether an employee who conceded that his claim should be dismissed before trial as moot, when the full amount of back pay was tendered, was a prevailing party entitled to statutory attorney’s fees under § 216(b). It should not be construed as authorizing the denial of attorney’s fees, requested by an employee, solely because an employer tendered the full amount of back pay owing to an employee, prior to the time a jury has returned its verdict, or the trial court has entered judgment on the merits of the claim.”

It remains to be seen exactly how the new Dionne Opinion will be applied by trial courts, but it does appear that much of the uncertainty created by the initial Opinion has now been resolved.  To that end, it appears that a Plaintiff who has suffered a theft of his or her wages can now safely accept tender of such wages (and liquidated damages) in response to a lawsuit to collect same, without fear that the employer can avoid payment of mandatory fees and costs, as long as they do not agree that the tender moots the case.

Click Dionne v. Floormasters Enterprises, Inc. to read the entire Opinion on Petition for Rehearing.

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W.D.Mo.: Plaintiffs Sufficiently Pled a “Rounding” Claim, Where Alleged Defendants’ Policy of Rounding Resulted in Improper Denial of Wages

McClean v. Health Systems, Inc.

The Plaintiffs, Certified Nursing Assistants (“CNAs”) for Defendant, claimed that they were required to work off the clock during automatically deducted meal breaks, during mandatory meetings and training sessions, and while performing mandatory data entry known as “dart charting.”  The result of these policies was to allegedly deny the Plaintiffs wages and overtime. After the Plaintiffs amended their Complaint the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss regarding several of Plaintiffs’ allegations.  As discussed here, the court denied Defendants’ motion as it pertained to Plaintiffs’ claims arising from Defendants’ policy of rounding their time to the nearest quarter of an hour, regardless of actual time worked.

Discussing the sufficiency of the rounding claim, the court explained:

“One of the Plaintiffs’ substantive allegations is that the Defendants have a practice of “reduc[ing] [their] employees’ work hours by rounding their hours to the nearest quarter hour of time to their detriment (i.e., the rounding did not average out to equally benefit Defendants and its employees over time) which results in Defendants not paying its employees for all time worked.” Doc. 51 at ¶ 112. Defendants cite federal regulations which expressly allow the practice of rounding to the nearest 15–minute increment. 29 C.F.R. § 785.48(b) (“For enforcement purposes this practice of [rounding to 5, 10 or 15–minute increments] will be accepted, provided that it is used in such a manner that it will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked.”).  The Defendants submit Harding v. Time Warner, Inc. in support of their position that the Plaintiffs have not sufficiently pled a claim of improper rounding. No. 09cv1212–WQH–WMC, 2010 WL 457690 (S .D.Cal. Jan. 26, 2010). In Harding, the court found that, despite describing the allegedly improper rounding procedures in detail, Harding had failed to provide “specific factual allegations” showing that employees had been underpaid. Id. at *5. The Plaintiffs provided the following statements regarding rounding in their Amended Complaint:

112. Defendants further reduce its [sic] employees’ work hours by rounding their hours to the nearest quarter hour of time to their detriment (i.e., the rounding did not average out to equally benefit Defendants and its [sic] employees over time) which results in Defendants not paying its [sic] employees for all time worked. This practice results in Plaintiffs and all other similarly situated employees being denied wages including overtime premiums and Defendants’ illegal rounding practices are not de minimus. [sic]

113. Even though Defendants had a computerized timekeeping system in place and could have easily recognized and paid Plaintiffs’ and other similarly situated employees’ actual hours worked, Defendants deliberately disregarded the system’s records and rounded Plaintiffs’ and other similarly situated employees work time down to the nearest quarter of an hour.”

114. Defendants willfully and illegally rounded Plaintiffs’ and other similarly situated employees’ work time down to the nearest quarter of a [sic] hour.

Doc. 51 at ¶¶ 112–14 (legal conclusions in bold). Iqbal requires “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. The Plaintiffs allege that the rounding did not average out properly. They further allege that the Defendants maintain a computerized system which keeps time, but still chose to use rounding. Assuming the truth of these allegations, the Court can plausibly infer that the Defendants chose to round time because it would be more favorable than paying for actual time worked on a minute by minute basis, thus violating the averaging rationale inherent to rounding. While the Plaintiffs could have chosen to state more, to require them to plead, for example, specific minutes on specific days for which they were denied wages would be fact pleading inconsistent with Iqbal. Hamilton v. Palm, 621 F.3d 816, 817 (8th Cir.2010) (noting that “Iqbal did not abrogate the notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2)”). The Defendants’ Motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ rounding claim is DENIED.”

Click McClean v. Health Systems, Inc. to read the entire Order.

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DOL Debars Seattle-Based Federal Contractor for Violating Minimum Wage, Overtime and Record-Keeping Laws

The U.S. Department of Labor has debarred HWA Inc., President John Wood and Vice President Barbara Wood from future government contracts for three years, due to significant and repeated violations of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act. Seattle-based HWA provided security services as a contractor to various federal facilities, government offices and public works projects in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Missouri and New York.

“The Labor Department will not allow federal contractors to misuse public funds and exploit hardworking laborers by denying their rightful wages,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Debarring violators such as HWA from future contracts ensures a level playing field, so that honest companies are not placed at a competitive disadvantage for playing by the rules, and paying their workers full and fair prevailing wages.”

According to a DOL press release:

“Most recently, in 2009, the company defaulted on seven federal contracts and failed to meet its payroll obligations, resulting in nearly $1 million in unpaid wages for 206 employees. The division ordered an emergency withholding of funds on several of the company’s federal contracts and secured the full payment of these wages. All SCA contracts held by the HWA were terminated shortly thereafter.”

The Service Contract Act (SCA) contract clauses, present in all Federal contracts, require contractors and subcontractors performing services under prime contracts in excess of $2,500 to pay service employees in various classes no less than the wage rates and fringe benefits found prevailing in the locality, or the rates contained in a predecessor contractor’s collective bargaining agreement, including prospective increases. The Labor Department issues SCA wage determinations for contracting agencies to incorporate into covered contracts, along with the required contract clauses. The fringe benefit requirements — usually vacation and holidays, known as “health and welfare” benefits — are separate and in addition to the hourly monetary wage requirement under the SCA. In addition, employers with prime contracts in excess of $100,000 under the CWHSSA must pay workers at least one and one-half times their regular rates of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a week.

Although violations of the primary federal wage and hour law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), may be pursued by aggrieved employees in private lawsuits, alleged violations of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, may only be pursued by the DOL.  Largely due to the fact that under the prior republican leadership, the employer-friendly DOL pursued very few of these cases, such violations are commonplace on Federal worksites, despite the various laws prohibiting them.  Hopefully, as the current DOL pursues these cases more frequently, workers will once again be assured of the protections of the laws that are on the books.

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Two Boca Raton Business Owners Accused Of Slavery Plead Guilty, Palm Beach Post Reports

The Palm Beach Post reports that:

“Two Boca Raton business owners accused of pressing Filipino workers into slavery pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges, the U.S. Justice Department announced today.

Sophia Manuel, 41, and Alfonso Baldonado Jr., 45, owners of Quality Staffing Services Corporation, pleaded guilty to conspiring to hold 39 Filipino nationals in compelled service at country clubs and hotels in South Florida, a Justice Department news release stated. A sentencing date is pending.

Manuel also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the U.S. Department of Labor in an application to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas, the release stated.

Manuel and Baldonado pressed the Filipino nationals into work for little or no pay, forced them to sleep on kitchen and garage floors, fed them rotten vegetables and chicken innards, and threatened to have them deported, according to court documents.”

To read the entire article, click here.

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Filed under Minimum Wage, Wage and Hour News, Wage Theft

Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, New York Times Reports

Today’s NY Times reports that there is a growing trend of employers, who illegally deem workers, entitled to be paid at least minimum wage, to be unpaid “interns.”

The article reports that, “[w]ith job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.”

To read the entire article, click here.

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Miami-Dade County Passes New Wage Theft Ordinance, Miami Herald Reports

The Miami Herald reports that Miami-Dade “[c]ounty overwhelmingly passed a new ordinance to combat wage theft, making it easier for workers to bring legal action against employers who fail to pay them.

Thursday’s vote comes after more than a year of work by a non-governmental task force of labor and immigrant advocates in Miami. San Francisco has a similar ordinance. Los Angeles and New Orleans are considering them.”

In addition to recovering the unpaid wages that have been wrongly denied them, workers can recover 2 times that amount in additional damages.  The ordinance will result in a a low-cost administrative process that seeks to speed along claims for workers who have not been properly paid their wages.

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Low-wage Workers Suffer High Rate Of Workplace Abuse and Wage Theft, UCLA Survey Shows

UCLA Today, a periodical covering faculty and staff news at UCLA has released a story summarizing the findings of a recent study conducted by 3 UCLA researchers, that examined the frequency of labor and wage abuses against low-wage workers in the Los Angeles area.  According to the story, “[a]n alarmingly high number of Los Angeles County workers at the bottom of the labor market are the victims of “wage theft” and other workplace violations by employers, who on average deprive workers of 12.5 percent of their weekly paycheck, according to a study released today, Jan. 6, by three researchers with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA.
 
Approximately 88 percent of those surveyed reported at least one instance of being paid less than the minimum wage, working overtime and not being paid for it, working off-the-clock for free, or other pay-based violation during the previous work week.
 
The results of a 2008 survey of 1,815 workers in the county holding such low-wage jobs as nannies, bank tellers, retail workers, garment workers, janitors and gardeners show that most of these violations are more prevalent in Los Angeles than in New York or Chicago, where similar surveys were done. Detailed, hour-long interviews were conducted with the workers who were asked to describe their previous work week.
 
“This is a wake-up call to the community,” said Professor Ruth Milkman, lead author and a professor of sociology at UCLA and the City University of New York Graduate Center. Ana Luz Gonzalez, a doctoral candidate in urban planning, and Victor Narro, project director at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and a lecturer in Chicano studies, are co-authors on the study.
 
Most egregious, said researchers, was that 30 percent of those surveyed in L.A. County were being paid less than the legal minimum wage for California, which is $8 an hour.”
                                                                                                                                                                                        To read the entire report click here.  To read the UCLA Today news story  click here.   

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Few Labor Violators Fined, Des Moines Register Reports

Today’s Des Moines Register reports that very few employers who are found guilty of violating the special Federal Minimum Wage laws, applicable to disabled workers, are actually fined as a result of their violations.

The report disclosed that, “[t]he U.S. government fined only three of the 797 employers that violated federal labor laws while paying subminimum wages to disabled workers over a five-year period.

The newly disclosed statistics come from the U.S. Department of Labor and are in response to questions posed nine months ago by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia.

Harkin has been studying the enforcement of a 71-year-old federal law that enables companies to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage if they first obtain federal approval.

Harkin chaired a Senate committee hearing that examined why Henry’s Turkey Service was allowed to pay its mentally retarded workers 41 cents an hour to work in a turkey processing plant in West Liberty.

Critics say the new statistics confirm what they have long alleged: Companies typically have nothing to lose by violating wage-and-hour laws intended to protect disabled workers.

Harkin said Monday that there is ‘no question’ the law currently fails to provide the disabled with ‘fair employment opportunities that are sufficiently policed to prevent exploitation.’

He said he is preparing ‘substantial legislative changes’ that he expects to make public in the next few months.”

To read the entire article click here.

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As Wage Theft Rises, States And Cities Crack Down, AP Reports

The AP reports that, “[a]cross the nation, the long-simmering problem of employers who don’t pay their workers appears to be getting worse, especially for immigrant laborers.

In the absence of aggressive federal action, some states and local governments have begun to tackle the issue on their own. They say employers who don’t pay overtime or minimum wage are unlikely to pay into state workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance funds — bilking taxpayers even as they’re cheating workers.

Workers rights centers say wage theft has become the No. 1 complaint they’ve heard in recent months.”

To read the entire story go to the AP’s website.

To speak with Wage and Hour Attorney Andrew Frisch call 1-888-OVERTIME or click here today.

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6 Construction Companies Accused Of Using Race-based Pay Scale: Whites At Top, Latinos Rock Bottom, Daily News Reports

The Daily News is reporting that, “[s]ix construction companies are accused in a new state lawsuit of paying their employees according to their race – with whites at the top and Latinos at the bottom.

The suit filed by [New York] state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Thursday says the companies cheated lower-paid minority workers out of $4 million in wages and overtime.

All six firms are controlled by Michael Mahoney, a contractor exposed by the Daily News last year after workers said his companies provided them with black market federal safety certificates.

Mahoney’s companies paid white workers an average hourly rate of $25, while paying African-Americans $18 and Latinos and Brazilians only $15 an hour for the same work, the suit charges.

Since 2002, the companies short-changed dozens of employes at at least 10 construction sites, Cuomo charged.

Some workers were cheated of as much as $600 a month, according to Cuomo.”

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