Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2019

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Pay for pre-shift meetings spurs suit against Harrah’s

Harrah's Entertainment

Steve Marcus

Harrah's Entertainment properties in Las Vegas are Planet Hollywood, foreground, Paris, shown in the background, as well as Bally's, Bill's, Flamingo, O'Sheas, Imperial Palace, Caesars Palace, Rio and Harrah's.

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday is the latest in a series of class-action pay claims filed by Nevada workers.

This week’s case is against Harrah’s Entertainment. The suit alleges Harrah’s requires workers to arrive 10 to 15 minutes before their shifts start but doesn’t pay them for the extra time.

“Ten minutes before each shift may not sound like much” but multiplied by thousands of workers and their daily shifts, the unpaid wages could add up to tens of millions of dollars, says Reno labor lawyer Mark Thierman, who filed the suit on behalf of Harrah's Las Vegas dealer Kimberley Daprizio.

Pre-shift meetings, which include pep talks by managers and reminders about job standards and expectations, are common practice in the casino business and other customer service industries.

Station Casinos is facing an overtime lawsuit that includes the pre-shift issue. That case was filed last year in state court, but it’s on hold while the company’s bankruptcy case is sorted out.

The plaintiffs in that case also seek class-action status. They say workers were not paid for time worked before and after their shifts.

Station disputes the claims but is discussing a potential settlement with the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

In her suit, Daprizio says she clocked in early to attend daily management meetings where she received instructions from previous shift supervisors.

At Harrah’s, these are sometimes called “buzz sessions” and can involve singing and dancing to motivate workers and improve their mood before shifts.

Harrah’s spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson said the company couldn’t comment on the lawsuit other than to say that “we will vigorously defend ourselves against any accusation that alleges we are in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Daprizio’s case is a little unusual in that she filed the lawsuit while working for Harrah’s. Many workers who file wage and overtime suits pursue them only after being laid off, Thierman says.

Before the recession, employees were willing to overlook potential violations of labor law because they were reaping the benefits of their jobs alongside employers. But attitudes have changed in this era of mass layoffs and reduced pay and benefits. Now workers pick apart even minor violations out of a sense of betrayal, Thierman and other court experts say.

“As an employer, you can’t expect people to walk away with a smile and not sue you after you lay them off,” Thierman says.

Over the past several years, he has won hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements from a slew of corporate giants sued for wage and overtime violations, including securities firms, mortgage brokers and coffee giant Starbucks.

The settlements, Thierman says, are evidence of companies’ brazen attempts to skirt the law.

In Nevada, workers are turning to lawyers instead of filing individual complaints with Nevada’s labor commissioner, who is understaffed and lacks the political will to make controversial, wide-ranging decisions that could cost major employers millions of dollars, Thierman says.

Nevada Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek says his office is indeed busy and typically investigates complaints on a case-by-case basis. Yet Tanchek says his office has the ability and the inclination to pursue large-scale audits against employers violating labor laws, provided an individual has evidence of such violations. Class-action lawsuits aren’t necessarily a more expeditious way of handling such complaints, Tanchek says. They have grown in popularity because they can yield big paydays for attorneys, he contends.

Class-action wage lawsuits against casinos haven’t been as successful as those against other industries nationwide, largely because they have been dismissed for procedural reasons, not necessarily because they lack merit.

In 2008, for example, a federal judge dismissed a pair of lawsuits against Mandalay Bay that alleged banquet workers were shorted pay, ruling that the disputes were subject to arbitration procedures spelled out in Culinary Union contracts with the casino.

In March, a state court judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Venetian for failing to give banquet workers time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours worked. Banquet servers can't sue for overtime pay under state law, and overtime disputes don’t belong in state court and must instead be heard by Nevada’s labor commissioner, District Judge Linda Bell said.

That ruling doesn’t apply to workers who sue because they have not been paid at all for time worked, however, Thierman argues.

A December ruling in federal court involving Bell Trans limousine drivers has paved the way for drivers to pursue their class-action lawsuit in court seeking pay for time spent on the clock but not shuttling passengers. Thierman is representing the Bell Trans drivers.

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