- An auto repair shop in Georgia violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when a manager dumped 91,500 oil-covered pennies in a former employee's driveway, the U.S. Department of Labor alleged in a lawsuit it announced Jan. 5.
- The pennies arrived after the worker notified DOL that the employer failed to pay his final wages following his resignation. It took him seven hours to remove the pennies, which stained his driveway, DOL said. Alongside the coins, the shop delivered a pay stub marked with an expletive. It also published "defamatory statements" about the worker on its website.
- The company retaliated against the former employee, in violation of the FLSA, DOL said. The agency also alleged that the auto shop's owner breached the act by paying straight time for overtime work. DOL's suit seeks $36,971 in back wages and liquidated damages.
Employers cannot punish current workers or former workers for contacting DOL; that's a form of protected activity, the agency pointed out in its announcement.
"Workers are entitled to receive information about their rights in the workplace and obtain the wages they earned without fear of harassment or intimidation," Wage and Hour Division District Director Steven Salazar said. "Workers and employers should feel free to contact the Wage and Hour Division."
While it's unusual to hear claims of dramatic retaliation carried out in public, it's not uncommon to see claims include allegations that employers punished workers for contacting an agency about troubles at work. A Florida firefighter claimed in 2020 that he was discharged over two complaints he filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for instance.
The firefighter's case highlights an important aspect of retaliation. Protected activity — the behavior that triggers a retaliatory response — does not insulate workers from discipline. While employment attorneys warn that employers must be careful when discipline closely follows protected activity, timing alone cannot establish retaliation. The firefighter was fired for well-documented performance problems, not retaliation, an appeals court concluded.