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NYC attorney defends NPS employees’ decision to sue district in alleged ‘wage theft’

A screengrab of the Daugherty Law Group’s website.

NORWALK, Conn. — “Dozens” of Norwalk Public Schools employees have confirmed allegations of wage theft, Attorney Ryan Daugherty said Wednesday.

Daugherty, responding to comments made by Norwalk Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr, said that he and his co-counsel firm will not make money unless they win the class action lawsuit they have filed on behalf of Hope Coles and Sadiya DeIrish, accusing NPS of systematically depriving them and hundreds of their colleagues of pay.

“{E}ach Administrative Secretary, of each school, manually reduces the hours of approximately ten (10) to fifteen (15) employees per week,” the complaint states.

Coles is the Norwalk Federation of Education Personnel (NFEP) president and yet bypassed the grievance process, going straight to suing NPS, Spahr said last week.

Daugherty on Wednesday addressed this complaint, writing:

  1. “By electing state court, the Class is entitled to a ‘jury trial’ rather than an arbitration with one decision maker. And we prefer a judge with experience in these types of cases to rule on material issues, rather than an arbitrator.
  2. “All of the members are entitled to double damages in state court; which means, if they are owed $5,000.00 the judge or jury can award $10,000.00.”
  3. “The class members would not be entitled to their lawyer(s) of choice, and would have to use the union attorneys.  And the union attorneys would bill all the members hourly.   Keep in mind, the union does not have unlimited resources.  They are only working with ‘union dues.’  Once the union runs out of money, they would no longer be able to represent the class. … *My co-counsel and I don’t get paid unless we win.
  4. “Unpaid wages’ is a violation of state law NOT necessarily a Violation of their Collective Bargaining Agreement (‘CBA’).  Arbitrations generally deal with contractual issues not violations of state law.”

 

 

“The  law requires that they pursue their administrative remedies first,” Spahr wrote Wednesday, providing this legal information:

“In Shortt v. New Milford Police Dept., 212 Conn. 294, 304, 562 A.2d 7 (1989), the Connecticut Supreme Court held that a trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear an employee’s claim for wages under General Statutes § 31–721 until the *487 employee has exhausted his or her administrative remedies by complying with the grievance procedure specified in an applicable collective bargaining agreement. The principal issue in this appeal is whether this jurisdictional barrier is overcome by an employer’s partially affirmative response to an employee’s informal grievance that does not comply with the procedures specified in a collective bargaining agreement. Despite such conduct by the employer, the trial court in this case concluded that the employee had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and that the court therefore had no subject matter jurisdiction to proceed. We agree

“Tooley v. Metro-N. Commuter R. Co., 58 Conn. App. 485, 486–87 (2000)”

 

 

 

Spahr said that the NFEP contract’s grievance provisions require employees to meet with the administration to attempt resolving disputes before a grievance is filed. “No Union attorney required. Why did they not do that?” he wrote. “Maybe because the attorney could ring up a huge bill and ask the Board to pay it by suing?”

Spahr also sent evidence to show that Ponus Ridge Middle School Principal Damon Lewis in February 2016 issued a memo “informing the staff (including Coles) that they could not afford to allow staff to work OT.”

“If Coles was told not to work OT, why would she disobey that directive, then turn around and seek to collect double damages (with her attorney seeking fees on top of that)? Explain,” Spahr wrote.

Daugherty wrote:

  1. “We’ve been told that several employees did complain about their unpaid wages. But more importantly, attorney Spahr and I have completely different perspectives on this lawsuit. Of course attorney Spahr would like to keep all of NPS’ lawless activity ‘in-house.’ If I were in his position I would want that too. But I’m not, and neither are the putative class members; they preferred the judicial route and my co-counsel and I were retained to accommodate them.
  2. “The NFEP is irrelevant. We’re alleging that NPS violated a Connecticut statute, not a provision in their CBA. The United States is renowned for having one of the most sophisticated judicial systems in the world, we should all cherish and uphold our right to air our grievances in the tribunal of our choosing.
  3. “Employers are obligated, by state law, to pay employees for all time worked. They can’t ‘post a sign’ or ‘send an email’ to abdicate that responsibility.”

 

 

“We are confident that the evidence will show that NPS’ time sheets are inaccurate,” Daugherty wrote. “Therefore, it’s premature for me to prognosticate exactly how many hours were stolen from each class member. Only time will tell.”

Coles DeIrish v NPS 19-0704 I

Coles DeIrish v NPS 19-0704 II

 

4 comments

Debora Goldstein August 2, 2019 at 11:09 am

It’s interesting that when there are land use lawsuits, or criminal ones relating to $900k filched by Chinese hackers, the City refuses to comment on those matters. But, they openly try labor disputes in the media.

John O'Neill August 2, 2019 at 11:14 am

Every time I think I’ve seen it all, there are cases like this that make me shake my head. Let’s keep an accounting of the cost of this litigation and keep NON readers informed. If the allegations are true, the principal should be fired. IF the allegations are not true, the plaintiffs should be fired. That seems fair, doesn’t it??

Para educator August 2, 2019 at 12:22 pm

I’m one who isn’t apart of the class action lawsuit but I should be. I have emails between administration and the secretary in regards to my hours being taken away but I also know how things will end. They will find something to fire me over because I stood up for myself. So for anyone to think this doesn’t happen is crazy!

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