Sometimes employment lawsuits are so “funny” they almost literally make steam come out of your ears. In one recent case, the “employee’s” claim for unpaid overtime was particularly infuriating because she never worked for her alleged employer.
The Tampa Bay Times ran an article yesterday about a business in Pinellas Park, Florida that was sued for alleged unpaid overtime by two former employees. The business owner didn’t believe he owed anyone any overtime or that he had violated the FLSA, so he hired an attorney to fight the lawsuit. He was upset about having to spend money to defend himself, but he was even more concerned because he had never heard of one of the two plaintiffs suing him, even though he knew all of his current and former employees.
When he checked his payroll, it turned out the plaintiff/”employee” had been paid over $20,000 in hourly wages in prior years. But when he asked other employees, he learned who she was — the girlfriend of the other plaintiff/former employee — and no one remembered her ever working at the company. Turns out she NEVER HAD worked there. But that didn’t stop her from having taken the $20,000+ in wages and then suing for alleged unpaid overtime!
This was all brought out “Perry Mason-style” at the plaintiff’s deposition in the case. (The Company’s lawyer must have had fun with that!) In fact, long before the deposition was over, the plaintiff who never worked there developed a “headache” and the deposition was stopped. Not surprisingly, it never continued and her claims were soon dropped. State law enforcement officials are investigating whether any of the fake employee’s actions constitute a crime, and we can only assume (and hope for his sake) that her attorney genuinely believed her story when the lawsuit was filed and had some reasonable basis for that belief.
The company isn’t entirely sure how this fake employee ended up on the payroll, but considering that her boyfriend worked there and the person coordinating payroll at the time turned out to be a thief, it’s pretty easy to guess what happened. But, having taken more than $20,000 for work she never performed, it is incredibly bold — as well as stupid and galling — that this fake employee would then sue for unpaid overtime.
This attempted fraud on the company is not just the result of the employer crossing paths with a couple of thieves/con-artists. It is a symptom of the proliferation of wage and hour lawsuits across the country. The huge explosion of unpaid wage and overtime claims (under the FLSA and state laws) has led to many suits being settled quickly for some amount of claimed backpay or overtime, plus attorney’s fees of course, because that is often cheaper than actually litigating the claims — even when the employer has complied with the law and paid all appropriate wages and overtime. Perhaps that is what the fake employee was betting would happen here: that she’d end up with even more money she didn’t deserve.
Good for the employer for standing up and fighting, even where he recognized it would cost him more to do so than to just cave and pay. Employers may not enjoy litigation, but sometimes it is necessary. Let’s hope the news story (and any resulting criminal actions) deter others from bringing such frivolous claims.