Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Department of Labor cracks down on worker retaliation in Southwest, says unlawful acts against workers exercising their rights will not be tolerated
DALLAS -- The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has increased its focus on identifying and resolving instances of employer retaliation against workers in the Southwestern U.S. In fiscal year 2012, the division concluded seven cases where employers were accused of retaliating against workers. By fiscal year 2013, that number jumped to 40 retaliation investigations concluded across the region.
The Fair Labor Standards Act affords workers legal protections from retaliation in instances where they raise an internal complaint with their employer or file a complaint with Wage and Hour officials, or if they cooperate in a Wage and Hour investigation. Any employee discharged, or in any other way retaliated against, may file a complaint with the division or may file a private lawsuit seeking remedies, such as employment reinstatement, lost wages and an additional equal amount in liquidated damages and other losses resulting from the illegal action.
“Workplace intimidation, such as firing, threatening to fire or physically harm an employee who exercises his rights under the FLSA, or demanding kickbacks, is unacceptable,” said Cynthia Watson, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. “We have stepped up our anti-retaliation enforcement effort, and we will use every tool available to protect workers and hold employers accountable.”
Based on the division’s enforcement experience, the division’s Southwest Region implemented a regional anti-retaliation enforcement training program. As part of this effort, four recent case settlements required employers to pay lost wages, liquidated damages and compensatory damages to affected workers. Additionally, employers must train managers on FLSA requirements and provide proof of such training to the division, provide neutral job references for affected employees and conspicuously post a fact sheet that outlines the prohibition of retaliation against employees who exercise their rights under the act. Workers in these cases were terminated, pressured to kickback recovered wages, or otherwise intimidated by their employers.
The following are specific details of these cases:
- Pacific Plus International in Farmers Branch, Texas, fired a janitor when he refused to sign a statement that falsely asserted he had received back wages found due in a separate FLSA investigation, even though no such payments were made. Following an investigation by Wage and Hour officials, the employer agreed to pay the affected worker lost wages of $4,329, an equal amount in liquidated damages, and $1,446 in additional damages to total $10,104.
- In Lawton, Okla., DMBC Restaurants LLC, doing business as Santa Fe Cattle Co., fired a server after a manager overheard her talking to co-workers about the restaurant’s practice of requiring employees to continue working after they had clocked out. Wage and Hour determined that the company’s stated reasons for the termination were not valid. The employer paid $3,599 in lost wages, plus an equal amount in liquidated damages, to total $7,198. In addition to Lawton, the Baton Rouge, La.-based restaurant enterprise has locations in Ada, Broken Arrow, Midwest City and Shawnee, Okla., as well as various locations in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
- In Broken Bow, Okla., Wage and Hour investigators determined that a former employee of Papa Poblano’s of Oklahoma Inc. had been fired shortly after she raised questions regarding the company’s tip pooling practices in a staff meeting. The employer agreed to pay the affected worker $3,270 in lost wages, and an equal amount in liquidated damages, to total $6,540. The owners also operate a Papa’s Mexican Café restaurant in Mena, Ark.; Papa Poblano’s restaurants in Hot Springs, De Queen and El Dorado, Ark; Nashville; and Idabel, Okla.
- In Houston, Texas, a homeless worker employed by Bengal Mart Inc., doing business as the convenience store Gulf Gas, was paid only $18 per day. When the employer learned that this worker had cooperated with an ongoing Wage and Hour investigation, the worker was illegally fired. The employer paid the affected worker $1,065 in lost wages and liquidated damages.
In instances where the employer refused to resolve valid retaliation cases with the agency, the department’s solicitor’s office has taken action:
- A lawsuit was filed in November of 2012 against Utah-based Diamond Tree Experts and its owners alleging the company fired two employees when they refused to kick back wages the employer owed to them as a result of a previous Wage and Hour investigation. That case was resolved through a consent judgment and injunction which included an order to pay $22,000 in back wages and $22,000 in liquidated damages.
- A pending lawsuit was filed in April of 2013 against El Paso A.R.C. Electric, Inc. based out of El Paso, Texas, alleging the company and two of its officers fired two employees for talking with Wage and Hour investigators.
Workers seeking more information about federal wage laws or those who need assistance can call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), its Dallas District Office at 817-861-2150, its Houston District Office at 713-339-5500, or its Oklahoma City District Office at 405-231-4158. Information is also available online at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses, piece-rate earnings and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Additionally, the law requires maintenance of accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment. The FLSA provides that employers who violate the law are, as a general rule, liable to employees for back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are paid directly to the affected employees.
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