US Department of Labor sues Michigan healthcare facility over alleged retaliation against workers amid wage investigation
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The opening of a federal investigation into the pay practices of a Haslett assisted living facility in the fall of 2021 prompted its owner to threaten employees with termination if they spoke with investigators and trick them into admitting whether or not they had cooperated with the investigation, a U.S. Department of Labor lawsuit filed on Feb. 3, 2023, alleges.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for Western District of Michigan, Southern Division in Grand Rapids, the department’s complaint alleges Safe Haven Assisting Living of Haslett LLC and its owner, Tamesha Porter, violated federal laws that protect workers from retaliation by threatening employees for their perceived cooperation with the department’s investigation into alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The suit seeks a jury trial and the recovery of pay, and compensatory and punitive damages for the affected employee.
The suit follows an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division that revealed Porter responded to the agency’s review of 18 months of the firm’s pay practices by regularly making threats of termination and attempting to identify employees whom she suspected had cooperated with the investigation. The division also alleges Porter acted with hostility toward workers, ignored them, and refused to speak to them. Her retaliatory responses to the investigation led several employees to resign. Allegedly, Porter later contacted a prospective employer of one such employee and claimed that the employee had engaged in misconduct at Safe Haven.
“Our investigation alleges Tamesha Porter, owner of Safe Haven Assisting Living of Haslett, violated federal law by retaliating against employees because she believed they had cooperated with our investigators, a clear violation of workers’ protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” explained Wage and Hour District Director Mary O’Rourke in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Workers dedicated to providing essential care and helping people in need faced threats and intimidation in what became a hostile – and for some, an unbearable – workplace. Porter interfered with a federal investigation and attempted to prevent employees from exercising their protected rights.”
The division’s review of the facility’s payroll records from Aug. 16, 2020, through Dec. 12, 2021, alleged the company and Porter failed to pay the affected workers for breaks not taken because of work demands. By doing so, the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime provisions.
To resolve the wage violations, the department obtained a Jan. 17, 2023, consent judgment in federal court in Grand Rapids that requires Porter and Safe Haven Assisting Living of Haslett LLC to pay $15,238 in back wages and damages to six of the facility’s workers and to immediately comply with wage laws.
The Fair Labor Standards Act’s anti-retaliation clause forbids any person from terminating or in any other manner discriminating against any employee because of such employee’s protected activities, including filing or cooperating with an investigation of the Wage and Hour Division.
“When employers like Tamesha Porter and Safe Haven Assisting Living of Haslett believe they can use threats and intimidation to derail a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, they will learn that we will take all necessary actions – including litigation – to hold them accountable for attempting to deprive workers of their legal rights and protections,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri in Chicago.
Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division and how to file an online complaint. For confidential compliance assistance, employees and employers can call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), regardless of where they are from.
Download the agency’s new Timesheet App for iOS and Android devices – free and also available in Spanish - to ensure hours and pay are accurate.
Walsh v. Haven Assisted Living of Haslett LLC, Tamesha Porter
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division