A Georgia auto repair shop that went viral last year for allegedly giving a former employee his final paycheck in thousands of oil-covered pennies, requiring nearly seven hours of cleaning, is now being sued by the Department of Labor.
A OK Walker Autoworks and its owner, Miles Walker, in Peachtree City are accused of unlawfully retaliating against Andreas Flaten with the greasy penny payment and of publishing defamatory comments about him online after Flaten contacted the department early last year about not receiving his final paycheck.
The business, located southwest of Atlanta, is further accused in the lawsuit filed Dec. 30 of failing to pay its employees overtime since at least April 5, 2019, and of failing to keep adequate and accurate records of employees’ pay rates and work hours, as required by law.
Flaten, in an email to HuffPost on Tuesday, described himself as “pleasantly surprised” by the Labor Department’s filing.
“At first I didn’t think I would ever see my final pay. Then the oily pennies were dumped and honestly thought he would be able to pull a stunt like that and get away with that,” he said. “So I’m very glad to see the DOL stepped up because no one deserves to be treated like that, especially when they were leaving to better themselves and tried to leave the right way.”
Flaten contacted the Labor Department on Jan. 26 of last year to report the business withholding his last paycheck after he quit in November. A representative with the department’s Wage and Hour Division contacted the auto repair shop about the missing paycheck and was told that Flaten would not receive it, according to the lawsuit.
Walker shortly after had a change of heart, however, and decided to pay Flaten what he was owed — but in pennies, the suit claims.
“How can you make this guy realize what a disgusting example of a human being he is … [Y]ou know what? I’ve got plenty of pennies; I’ll use them,” Walker is quoted in the lawsuit as saying.
Nearly two months after Flaten contacted authorities, Walker dumped approximately 91,500 pennies on Flaten’s driveway on March 12 along with a copy of his paystub and “an expletive written on the outside,” the lawsuit states.
The department said it took nearly seven hours to clean the pennies, which were covered in oil and stained his driveway.
“Workers are entitled to receive information about their rights in the workplace and obtain the wages they earned without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
– DOL Wage and Hour Division District Director Steven Salazar in Atlanta
The auto shop defended its actions in a statement posted to its website and said that “no one employed” by the shop put oil on the pennies, going on to suggest that the former employee did that himself “to make this more explosive.”
“Unfortunately, by law, we cannot disclose his short comings. 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? Maybe he liked self-gratifying himself in clients’ cars?” the post, which was recently removed from the shop’s website, stated of the former employee.
The post went on to insist that its actions were not a “big deal” since the former employee was ultimately paid in cash. It blamed “the lame-stream media” for amplifying the story and suggested people instead focus their attention on taking “a stand against the tyranny of an overbearing government.”
The auto shop did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Tuesday.
Flaten told HuffPost that he has not had contact with the auto shop since the incident and would like to keep it that way. He said he has directly heard from other former employees who have alleged similar toxic abuse while working at the shop, including claims of withheld final paychecks. He encouraged other workers, regardless of their place of employment, to reach out to the Labor Department if they have concerns about their pay and treatment.
“They really do help and there are laws that are in place to protect you in instances like this,” he said.
Steven Salazar, district director of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division in Atlanta, also encouraged workers to reach out if they have concerns.
“By law, worker engagement with the U.S. Department of Labor is protected activity,” he said in a statement. “Workers are entitled to receive information about their rights in the workplace and obtain the wages they earned without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
Source: Huff Post