BANGOR, Maine — Two former employees of a local business that provides residential and support services to people with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities have sued the Getchell Agency Inc. in Bangor and its owner Rena Getchell for unpaid wages, claiming they were on duty 24 hours a day but were paid for just 16 hours.
Kristopher T. Saunders, 43, of Brewer and Cory A. Scribner, 35, of Bangor filed the lawsuit July 3 in U.S. District Court on behalf of themselves and nearly 100 fellow workers who were required to “work around the clock,” according to Donald F. Fontaine, the Portland attorney who represents Saunders and Scribner.
Getchell’s attorney, Frank T. McGuire of Bangor, said in an email Tuesday that his client had been served with the complaint.
“The Agency firmly denies the claims in this lawsuit and will answer and defend the claims in court,” he said.
McGuire said the claims appeared to be related to a U.S. Department of Labor investigation begun two years ago.
“The investigator initially claimed a large amount of back pay was due for sleep time, but then the Wage and Hour Division decided not to pursue the claim and dropped it,” he said. “This lawsuit looks like it is trying to pick up on that same claim. However, a claim that people should have been paid for time when they were asleep does not have any merit in our opinion.
“The Getchell Agency is a good agency that provides good homes to consumers with disabilities,” the attorney concluded. “It also treats its employees fairly and complies with the law. We will respond further to these claims through the court process.”
The lawsuit is seeking class action status, unpaid overtime wages, damages and a judgment against the agency and Getchell that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The Wage and Hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor completed an investigation this spring into the agency, Fontaine said in a press release issued earlier this month.
“It estimated that nearly 100 employees were deprived of in excess of $500,000 in back wages and did not have private sleeping quarters,” he said. “The rules are clear: all hours that people work must be paid, even overnight hours, unless a private bedroom is provided and the workers agree to what nighttime hours do not need to be paid. The Getchell Agency is thumbing its nose at the law.”
If the allegations in the complaint are true, it would be the second time in less than four years that Getchell has been told by the Department of Labor that it had violated wage and hour laws.
In January 2010, the company entered into a consent decree with the Department of Labor in which it admitted that it owed 88 employees a total of $130,000 in back wages for unpaid overtime. As part of the agreement, the company agreed to pay employees overtime and maintain proper records.
Saunders, who worked for the agency from October 2009 to December 2011, said Monday that he sought out Fontaine after he received a letter dated April 26, 2013, from the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. The letter, which Saunders shared with the Bangor Daily News, stated that he was due back wages.
“The employer, through an attorney, was asked to pay you back wages totaling $11,803.63, but did not agree to make additional payments to you,” Daniel Cronin, assistant district director for the Wage and Hour Division, based in Manchester, N.H., said in the letter.
The letter also said that although the Department of Labor sued the agency in 2009 over unpaid overtime, it would not do so in 2013 after reviewing all the circumstances in the case.
Saunders said that he was required to work seven consecutive days as a house manager for Getchell without a day off or an adequate place to sleep.
“It was exhausting,” he said.
At different times during his employment, Saunders was required to sleep on a couch between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. or to share a bedroom with another employee.
Saunders said he was told by the Department of Labor that he was one of 96 employees who was owed back wages. The company employs approximately 150 people, according to McGuire.
“I would encourage anyone who got a letter from the Department of Labor to call Mr. Fontaine,” Saunders said Monday. “I believe that all current and former employees who got a letter are entitled to the dollar value stated in the letter. The law is on their side and they should not fear reprisals.”