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Suing for Overtime

June 1st, 2012

I wrote this a few months ago, and it fell through the cracks. Here it is, though.

Apparently, more and more American workers are suing employers for unpaid overtime pay:

Americans were pushed to their limit in the recession and its aftermath as they worked longer hours, often for the same or less pay, after businesses laid off almost 9 million employees.

Now, many are striking back in court. Since the height of the recession in 2008, more workers across the nation have been suing employers under federal and state wage-and-hour laws. The number of lawsuits filed last year was up 32% vs. 2008, an increase that some experts partly attribute to a post-downturn austerity that pervaded the American workplace and artificially inflated U.S. productivity.

Workers’ main grievance is that they had to put in more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay through various practices:

• They were forced to work off the clock.

I noted this story because my one experience in court was exactly this. It was back in 1984, if I am not mistaken. I worked at a movie theater for a couple of certifiable douchebags, perhaps the two most unpleasant and dishonest people I have personally known.

They came across as convincingly earnest at first, as douchebags often do. When they took over the theater, they told all the people who were already working there about their dreams to make that theater a terrific place. However, they needed to build up capital, and could not afford everything at the start. They said that they could guarantee us a good health care plan later on, for example, if we would be willing to forgo overtime pay for a while at the beginning. We thought that an actual health care package was way more than we could expect, and didn’t think that overtime would matter much, so we agreed.

Of course, the no-overtime policy never disappeared, and the promised health care plan never materialized.

At one point, one of the workers left and sued the theater for unpaid overtime pay. At that point, the owners told everybody that before they would accept our timecards, we would have to re-write them–falsifying the records, spreading the hours around so that they would never go over 8 hours a day or 40 per week.

Soon afterwards, I quit the theater. The overtime issue was not the only reason, of course. These guys made the place a horrible place to work, and really pushed the limits on what you could even stand by and watch. Someday I’ll go into detail perhaps, but right now it’s beside the point. Suffice to say they disgusted me and I wanted nothing to do with them.

Afterwards, I decided to sue for the overtime pay. I had copied all of my timecards, and decided not to try to make a point of the falsified records; I just sued for what was on the books, which came out to a bit more than $500.

I served them by registered mail and showed up in court, armed with all the documents to prove my case. They did not show, and got away with it. These guys were not new to being served (again, stories for another time), and the dominant douchebag of the pair signed the registered mail as “Rob Roy.” While I’m sure signing that way is illegal, there was no way to pin it on him, and without a valid signature, the registered mail was not sufficient to show the guy had been served. The judge told me I’d have to re-file.

This time I had someone I knew serve them (in exchange for a few six-packs of beer). The day for the court case came, and again they did not show. The judge ruled in my favor by default.

At that point, they had, if I recall correctly, thirty days to appeal, which I was sure they would do. They never did. I think they just figured that they didn’t need to; they were already deep in debt, and figured that they could just refuse to claim, maybe use some more tricks to keep from coughing up the judgment (plus fees and costs).

I don’t think they realized that I knew which bank they used.

All I needed to do was to hire a county deputy sheriff to go to the bank and get the money; all he needed was the bank name and the name of the account holder. A few days later, I got every penny.

I did say these guys were scummy; I did not say that they were particularly bright.

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