News Release

Court orders Massachusetts employer who threatened employee to pay $25K in punitive damages, plus $164K in wages, damages to underpaid employees

US Department of Labor investigation found PS Tree Service Inc., Ronan A. De Souza threatened employee, shortchanged workers, violated child labor requirements

BOSTON – Following an investigation and litigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, a federal court ordered a Holbrook tree service company and its owner – who threatened a former employee who participated in an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division – to pay the worker $25,000 in punitive damages.

Entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the consent judgment and order also permanently enjoins PS Tree Service Inc. and owner Ronan A. De Souza from threatening or retaliating against any employee or former employee or their family for cooperating in a Wage and Hour Division investigation or otherwise exercising their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The court prohibited the company and its owner from taking actions, including the following, because an employee asserted their rights under the FLSA:

  • Terminating employees.
  • Inflicting physical harm or verbal abuse on employees or their family members.
  • Reporting employees to immigration authorities or using an employee’s immigration status against them.
  • Disparaging employees to other employers.
  • Instructing employees to not cooperate with department investigations.

In related litigation, the department obtained a separate consent judgment and order requiring PS Tree Service and De Souza to pay $82,123 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages – a total of $164,246 – to eight employees to resolve violations of the FLSA’s wage, recordkeeping and child labor requirements.

Division investigators determined that De Souza and the business paid employees straight time when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, failed to maintain accurate records and allowed a 17-year-old worker to operate a woodchipper and a chainsaw. The order also requires PS Tree Service and De Souza to comply with the FLSA’s overtime, recordkeeping and child labor requirements, cooperate with future U.S. Department of Labor investigations and pay $3,907 in civil money penalties.

“Employees have a right to be paid their wages, to seek those wages and cooperate with investigators without fear of employer retaliation or threat of physical harm or harassment. The Wage and Hour Division uses a variety of tools to ensure workers are informed of their rights and employers are aware of their responsibilities under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and will not tolerate interference with its investigations or intimidation of workers,” said Wage and Hour District Director Carlos Matos in Boston.

“This case should remind employers and workers that the U.S. Department of Labor will take legal action on behalf of workers when their employers threaten or intimidate them, shortchange them of their wages, expose minor workers to hazardous jobs and equipment or otherwise disregard the Fair Labor Standards Act’s requirements,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher in Boston.

Workers can call the Wage and Hour Division confidentially with questions – regardless of their immigration status – and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages.

For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). 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.


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Wage and Hour Division
March 9, 2022
Release Number
Media Contact: Ted Fitzgerald
Media Contact: James C. Lally
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