$583,977 in Back Wages and Penalties for Overtime and Recordkeeping Violations

Friday, April 6, 2012

A chain of 14 Long Island gasoline stations and its owners will pay $544,900 in back wages and interest to 35 employees according to the terms of a contempt consent judgment, resolving a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor. The suit was based on an investigation by the department's Wage and Hour Division that found violations of the overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Additionally, Riverhead-based E. M. & T. Inc., doing business as Empire Gas, and owners Ali Yuzbasioglu and Sukru Ilgin, will pay the Labor Department $39,077 in civil money penalties and interest for the violations.

The investigation found that the defendants failed to pay one employee at least the federal minimum wage, failed to record dates of birth for minor employees, failed to make, keep and preserve adequate and accurate records of workers’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and paid non-exempt tax preparers a flat salary or “straight time” for all hours worked, including hours in excess of 40 per work week.

"The violations uncovered in this investigation are unfortunately typical of those we find at other noncompliant gasoline service stations, with vulnerable, low-wage workers being deprived of the wages they have rightfully earned," said Irv Miljoner, director of the division's Long Island District Office, located in Westbury. "We are seeking to change employers' behaviors to reduce noncompliance, and to ensure fairness for workers and those employers who obey the law. This lawsuit, and its results, should send a clear message to other employers that the Wage and Hour Division will aggressively pursue such violations, and we will use all of the enforcement tools available to us to do so."

A previous investigation led to a 2004 consent judgment and court order in which the defendants in this case agreed to pay more than $943,000 in back wages and to comply with the FLSA in the future. The back wages were paid in full. However, a second investigation found additional violations between January 2008 and January 2011, including underpayment of workers, and failure to maintain accurate and adequate payroll records. Among other practices, the defendants failed to pay overtime to employees who often worked between 84 and 114 hours per week, and paid some employees completely off the books. In addition to conducting employee interviews, the Labor Department engaged in surveillance to determine the actual hours worked by employees.

The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, as well as one and one-half times their regular rates for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees' wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.

Under the terms of the judgment in the current case, entered in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the defendants purge themselves of the contempt charge by agreeing to take corrective actions. In addition to paying back wages and interest in full, they must inform their employees – in English and any other languages spoken by the employees – of their rights under the FLSA, the terms of the judgment and their right to engage in activities protected by the act without fear of retaliation. The judgment also prohibits the defendants from future violations of the FLSA's overtime and record-keeping provisions, which could result in the department filing a contempt action against them in federal court.

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