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Low-wage construction workers win big victory

June 26, 2013: Early this week, 80 low-wage construction workers won a big victory in the US District Court for the District of Maryland. The court approved the proposed settlement in two related wage suits, Bouthner v. Cleveland Construction, et al, and Luna v. FAS Consultants, LLC, et al.  The workers had sued their employers for allegedly misclassifying them as independent contractors and for failing to pay them fully and on time. The settlement provides for defendants to pay $130,000 in alleged overtime wages and liquidated damages. 
The Public Justice Center represented the workers in both cases, along with co-counsel Nicholas Woodfield of The Employment Law Group, a participant in the PJC’s Litigation Partnership. 
There were nine defendants in the case: five different construction contractors (and several individual owners) and subcontractors. Each pointed fingers at the other, claiming they were not the workers’ “employer” and could not be responsible for the alleged misclassification and failures to pay. However, under the terms of this settlement, each of the defendant companies (Cleveland Construction, FAS, Servicemax, Chesapeake Firestop Products) is forced to assume a share of the total payments to the workers, for a grand total of $130,000.  Each was forced to shoulder a portion of the burden and be held accountable for the problems.
“This is truly a vindication of the intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” said Nick Woodfield, PJC’s co-counsel. The FLSA was enacted in 1938 in response to appalling workplace conditions, including long hours and low pay. It is the federal law that provides bedrock wage protections, such as the requirement to pay minimum wage and overtime. In light of its humane purposes, the FLSA contains a broad definition of employer.  To “employ” is to “suffer or permit to work.” And a worker can be jointly employed -- i.e., have more than one employer.
The Bouthner lawsuit alleged that the workers were regularly shuffled among employer payrolls and frequently paid as independent contractors despite the fact that they were actually employees. Further, workers alleged that they were forced to perform certain tasks for the employers’ benefit but were not properly, timely or adequately compensated for their work. The first suit, Bouthner, was initially filed in 2010, coinciding with the National Day of Action Against Wage Theft on November 18.
Congratulations to the workers who persevered, to our co-counsel at The Employment Law Group and to the intrepid PJC Workplace Justice Project team: Sally Dworak-Fisher, Andrea Vaughn, Alexandra Rosenblatt, Rachel Boss and Debra Gardner. 
Your support helps the PJC continue the fight for other workers who suffer wage theft. We welcome your contributions

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