Monday, January 10, 2022

The “Penny Pincher” gets sued for retaliation — an update on a 2021 Worst Employer finalist

A OK Walker Autoworks and its owner, Miles Walker, a 2021 Worst Employer finalist, finished dead last in last year's voting, garnering only 7% of the total weighted vote. They may win the prize after all, however. The Department of Labor just filed a lawsuit against the auto repair shop and its owner for retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Recall that Walker earned the nomination by paying the final paycheck of Andreas Flaten by dumping 91,500 oil-soaked pennies in the driveway of his home. Flaten claims that action was done in retaliation for his earlier complaints about wage-and-hour violations. 

The DOL apparently agrees. It alleges that within hours of Flaten lodging a complaint with the agency about Walker's failure to pay his final paycheck, and a DOL investigator contacting Walker to find out what happened, Walker made the decision to pay Flaten in pennies. "How can you make this guy realize what a disgusting example of a human being he is," the lawsuit quotes Walker as saying before adding: "You know what? I've got plenty of pennies; I'll use them."

The DOL also alleges that Walker posted the following on the company's website: "What started out as a gotcha to a subpar ex-employee, sure got a lot of press . . . . Let us just say that maybe he stole? Maybe he killed a dog? Maybe he killed a cat? Maybe he was lazy? Maybe he was a butcher? . . . know that no one would go to the trouble we did to make a point with out [sic] being motivated."

All in all, the DOL alleges that Walker's actions constituted illegal retaliation under the FLSA. I'm inclined to agree.

If you're responding adversely against an employee because that employee complained about something protected by law, don't. Retaliation may seem like second nature, but it's also a surefire way to get sued in a lawsuit that's difficult and expensive to defend. Also, don't admit to the wrongdoing on your company's website; that's just arrogant and ignorant.