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Suits claim businesses failed to pay overtime

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 | 3:27 p.m.

A group of attorneys is going after two Nevada employers, charging they failed to pay required overtime to workers allegedly misclassified as managers.

Lawsuits seeking class-action status were filed in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas last month and this month against AutoZone Inc. and Wells Fargo Bank.

The attorneys claim Memphis-based AutoZone failed to pay required overtime to Nevada workers classified as assistant managers and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo has failed to pay required overtime to workers classified as business banking specialists.

A request for comment was placed with AutoZone, while Wells Fargo on Wednesday disputed the claims against it.

"Wells Fargo strongly denies these allegations. We pay our team members for hours worked as required by law. Because we are just now reviewing this case, it is premature for us to comment further at this time,'' the bank said in a statement.

Both suits were filed by attorneys with the firms Gerard & Associates in Las Vegas, Clark & Markham in San Diego and United Employees Law Group of Long Beach, Calif.

In the July 24 AutoZone case, former assistant manager Stephen Cary claims he and others with that job title were not paid wages and overtime for all hours worked over eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.

"Plaintiff and members of the class were regularly required to perform job functions, such as the opening and closing of a store location, without being paid for this time," the suit charges.

In the Aug. 11 Wells Fargo case, Amber Salazar claims she and other business banking specialists have been regularly required to work off the clock on designated "call nights."

The job of business banking specialists involves helping business customers open accounts and obtain small business loans, and these employees must work on the call nights, the lawsuit says.

AutoZone and Wells Fargo are accused of classifying the affected employees as being exempt from wage and hour laws, when their job functions don't make them exempt.

These are just the latest in a series of lawsuits pending in Nevada's state and federal courts challenging employers' pay policies, with several cases pending concerning off-the-clock work, the payment of workers whose tips are pooled and the exempt status of sales people.

Employment law experts have been warning for months that employers should brace for closer scrutiny of their wage-and-hour compliance under the Obama administration.

And on June 23 the Government Accountability Office issued a report concerning the U.S. Labor Department with the ominous title: "Wage and Hour Division Needs Improved Investigative Processes and Ability to Suspend Statute of Limitations to Better Protect Workers Against Wage Theft."

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis responded by announcing plans to hire 250 wage and hour field investigators, boosting the division's staffing level by more than one-third.

Labor law attorney Garry Mathiason, vice chair of the firm Littler Mendelson in San Francisco, has advised employers to ensure they are in compliance with the law as wage complaints increase, in part driven by laid-off, disgruntled workers.

"The Department of Labor reports that seven of 10 employers are still out of compliance with wage-and-hour laws," Mathiason said in a report issued by Littler Mendelson.

"No employment-law trend is more certain, universal or important than the total wage-and-hour compliance initiative and stopping the epidemic of wage-and-hour class-action (lawsuits)," he wrote. "It is predicted that manager and employee wage-and-hour training, especially online, will become as common by 2010 as harassment-prevention training."

"With thousands of plaintiffs' attorneys examining every aspect of the payroll process, employers must expect maximum scrutiny," he advised. "Every employee who is terminated or demoted, or who experiences an unpleasant workplace event, is encouraged by Internet and television advertising to seek the advice of counsel. In almost every intake interview, the attorney's questioning turns to wage-and-hour issues in an attempt to find additional claims. Inspired by the prospect of turning a small individual claim into a multimillion-dollar class-action, the organization's wage-and-hour compliance goes under the microscope."

Besides overtime, employee misclassification, off-the-clock work and tip-pooling issues, Mathiason warned of class-actions involving meal and rest breaks, travel time and expense reimbursements.

Employers also are facing claims from workers demanding to be paid for responding to after-hours phone calls, e-mails and texts.

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