Housekeepers’ lawsuit against employer moved to federal court
December 27, 2013
A lawsuit filed by seven housekeepers against a Basalt cleaning company alleging unpaid overtime wages and other issues has been transferred from Pitkin County District Court to federal court.
The Denver-based attorneys for the company listed as the defendant, Alpine Valley Services — which also does business as Diamond Kip's Inc. and Kip's Kleaning Inc. — filed a "removal of action" on Dec. 13 to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court in Denver. The Glenwood Springs lawyer for the plaintiffs, Ted Hess, originally filed the lawsuit in Pitkin County on Nov. 25.
According to the initial complaint, some of the housekeepers were still employed by Alpine Valley Services, and some recently had been fired. All seven are Latinos, the suit states.
In part, the lawsuit makes the following allegations, all of which were denied in the defendant's Dec. 10 answer to the complaint:
• Although the employees spent a half hour directly preparing for work every morning, they were never paid for that time.
• During a regular workday, employees were required to drive between particular jobs and were paid $10 per day for drive time. But company supervisors began penalizing employees by taking that compensation away if they were late or not "behaving."
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• Some employees worked both a morning and an evening shift. However, such double-shift employees never received overtime pay for work over 40 hours per week. "In other words, (Alpine) treated the hours worked in the evenings as a separate job, even though it was the same type of work, performed by the same company, on the same day, by the same person," the suit says.
• Although Alpine did pay some overtime for morning-shift work, sometimes employees who should have been paid overtime were instructed to bank their hours for a later pay period.
• In May, investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor visited Alpine. The suit claims that employees were warned by a supervisor "to be very careful when speaking … regarding compensation and working conditions."
• Supervisors told workers to turn in hire information for a spouse or relative who did not work for the company. This allowed Alpine to avoid overtime by making two straight-time payments, one to the actual employee and one to the fictitious worker.
• Homeowners customarily left tips for housekeepers. In July 2012, Alpine began requiring that all tips be returned to the office. The tips were to be divided among all employees who worked at the particular property where the tip was left. "The tip money was not distributed to the employees," the suit says.
• On Sept. 5, employees went to the home of the company owner, Timothy Riggins, to complain about wage and supervisor issues. They delivered a letter describing "the abusive work environment" to Riggins, and he promised to look into the complaints. "It is not known … what actions Mr. Riggins took, but (Alpine) retaliated against all the employees who attended the meeting" by firing them or cutting their hours, the suit says.
The Dec. 10 answer to the suit, filed by attorney Shannon Henderson, acknowledges that U.S. Department of Labor representatives visited the company in May and that employees gathered at Riggins' private residence on Sept. 5 to complain "about shifts, working conditions and working hours." But all of the other allegations were denied.
Reached for comment Monday regarding the change of jurisdiction, Hess said federal law allows for a case involving U.S. labor law to be addressed in state court but that it is the defendant's prerogative to ask that it be removed and placed in federal court.
"It doesn't really make much difference except that in the event of a jury trial, we would all have to trek to Denver instead of Aspen," Hess said. "Everything else is approximately the same."
The suit seeks a judgment greater than $100,000 for overtime wages, back pay, damages, legal costs and attorneys' fees. A status conference has been scheduled for March 12 before federal Magistrate Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya in Denver.