I am always telling clients who are sued in FLSA actions not to take any actions against employees who may still be working for them (which, admittedly, is not the case very often) because that will make things dramatically worse. Well, it appears that HBO may not be heeding this admonition because production assistants who joined FLSA collective and state class actions have alleged that the company is taking actions against them for joining those suits. The case is entitled Sapia et al. v. Home Box Office Inc. and was filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York.
The company had settled suits based on a theory that it did not pay parking production assistants properly for their hours, i.e. work hours, spent holding spaces for large productions like “Girls” and “Vinyl.” The company allegedly retaliated against employees who opted into the cases by asking them to sign agreements that they would drop out of the litigation and, more importantly, by cutting their shifts and/or refusing to hire them back for additional work. The Complaint alleges that the “defendant reduced plaintiffs’ shifts to strategically force plaintiffs to resign by reducing their pay to levels below those necessary to sustain themselves and their dependents.”
Although the studios made millions of dollars from the projects. The studios, however, only paid a per diem pay to the employees, who were assigned to hold parking spaces over long shifts. HBO settled the case for $8,000,000 in September. However, the company allegedly was not content to leave it there. For example, one plaintiff stated that he was called into a meeting with the Parking Coordinator and at that meeting was informed that any assistants who participated in the overtime lawsuits would be given fewer shifts. The Coordinator also asked if the employee would sign a “working agreement.” This would require the employee to remove himself from the litigation.
The worker not only refused to sign the agreement, he tore it up in front of his supervisor. Then, he was denied more shifts when he asked for them, he alleges. When he asked to be assigned shifts, the company denied the requests or just ignored them. The Complaint then alleges that the “defendant constructively terminated plaintiff Sapia by refusing to assign him any shifts of work in retaliation for opting into the lawsuit and for refusing to opt-out of it.”
As an employer, you need to know when to walk away from something, fix it and move forward. This case was settled, over, but now has been given new life in a needless manner.
Didn’t have to happen…