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Employment Law Notebook

No Pennies From Heaven For Employer Who Retaliated Against Employee Who Fought for His Last Paycheck

It’s always a bad idea to retaliate against an employee who quits or complains about not being paid, but this lawsuit recently brought by the US Department of Labor really shines a light on this advice.  Talk about being penny wise and pound foolish!

In Walsh v. 811 AUTOWORKS, LLC et al., Case 3:21-cv-00220-TCB, the DOL alleges that an automotive repair shop in Georgia, 811 Autoworks, failed to pay Andreas Flaten, an employee who resigned, his last paycheck. After Mr. Flaten complained to the U.S. Department of Labor about not receiving his paycheck, the owner of the auto shop allegedly told the US DOL that he would not pay the employee his final wages and stated “How can you make this guy realize what a disgusting example of a human being he is …. [Y]ou know what? I’ve got plenty of pennies; I’ll use them.”  The owner, Miles Walker, then left a wheel barrel full of 91,500 pennies covered in oil in the employee's driveway with copy of the employee’s paystub for $915 on top and posted defamatory statements about the former employee on the company’s website!  Now this company and its owner are facing a lawsuit for retaliation for its conduct towards Mr. Flaten and three years of unpaid overtime and liquidated damages for Mr. Flaten and 8 eight other employees. 

As is often the case when an employee complains to the federal or a state Department of Labor, a single employee’s complaint wound up putting the employer’s entire payroll practices under the US DOL’s microscope.  Here, the US DOL alleges it discovered that the employer was not paying nine employees including Mr. Flaten overtime at the rate of 1 ½ times their hourly rate when they worked more than 40 hours a week and that the employer failed to maintain required wage and hour records. The lawsuit is filed in the Northern District of Georgia, Newnan Division.

 As 811 Autoworks has not yet answered the Complaint we don’t know its position, but there are certainly lessons learned from this one: If your employer doesn’t pay you what’s earned, fight for what you are owed.  If your employees complain to you or the state or federal DOL about a wage and hour issue, take the situation seriously and resolve it!