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In this Jan. 23, 2019, photo, construction work on a new house construction. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) ORG XMIT: NYBZ560

The U.S. Department of Labor said Tuesday it had forced a Florida-based contractor, Gomez Drywall Construction Inc., to pay 108 Louisiana-based workers nearly $180,000 in back pay for breaking federal rules on overtime compensation.

The Department of Labor said the action followed an investigation into claims Gomez misclassified workers as independent contractors and subsequently failed to pay them overtime when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Gomez' lawyer, Scott Huffstetler, of Kean Miller in Baton Rouge, said "the client, and other than to say that they dispute some of the statements in the (Department of Labor's) press release, they are not going to otherwise comment."

The government's action follows a class-action lawsuit that was brought up in August in the District Court in New Orleans by one of Gomez's former workers, Edwin Murillo, which was subsequently settled.

Labor Department spokesman Juan Rodriguez said the department doesn't comment on how investigations are initiated but noted they can be started by filing a lawsuit or filing a complaint directly.

The agency's action has echoes of details in the case, Edwin Murillo et al vs Gomez Drywall Construction Inc., which was settled in March. In that case, Murillo, who had been a general laborer for the framing and drywall contractor, said Gomez had not paid any of his workers overtime since at least April 2015, though they regularly worked 55 or more hours a week. The lawsuit also identified two other workers, Yony Ramirez and Marvin Ruiz, who had been in the same situation as Murillo, and the District Court found sufficient evidence that it was Gomez's policy to not pay any overtime rates and allowed the class action.

The law requires employers to keep record of their workers' hours and pay time-and-a-half for work over 40 hours a week.

"Violations like those found in this case are common in this industry and are avoidable," said Troy Mouton, regional wage regulator for the Labor Department in New Orleans. "The Wage and Hour Division is committed to ensuring that employees receive the wages they've earned and that employers compete on a level playing field."

The Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state-level labor department, also worked on the case as part of a task force set up two years ago to fight the problem of misclassified workers, according to LWC spokesman Michael Key. Dubbed "GAME ON," or Government Against Misclassified Employees Operational Network, the LWC conducts audits and works with the federal agency and the Internal Revenue Service to gather tips and leads about abuses.


Follow Anthony McAuley on Twitter, @AnthonyMcAuley2.