HARTFORD, CT – After investigations and litigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, a federal court ordered a Milford sports bar and its owner to pay employees a total of $359,485 in back pay, emotional distress damages, withheld compensation and punitive damages for violating the anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This order is the first court decision involving retaliation claims asserted under both laws. In February 2022, the department filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut against Milford Sports Bars LLC, doing business as Champions Grill and Bar, and Loren Drotos, who is also known as Mark Roberts, Mark Drotos and Mark Lawrence. The suit alleged that in January 2022, the employers threatened an employee who asked to be paid the compensation they had earned and unlawfully terminated employees who participated in an inspection by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The department also alleged that, after employees were fired within days of exercising their federally protected rights, the employers sought to further chill employees from engaging in protected activities and cooperating with federal investigators by sending a message to employees that they should not talk to the department.The court accepted the department’s allegations as true and issued an order on Dec. 15, 2023, granting $6,770 in back pay, $2,715 in withheld wages, $125,000 in emotional distress damages and $225,000 in punitive damages to the affected employees. The order also prohibits the employers from future violations of the anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA and OSH Act.“Employers who subject their workers to unlawful conduct on multiple fronts, such as unsafe working conditions, unpaid wages and threats of retaliation, are violating multiple federal employment laws,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher in Boston. “The court’s award of $225,000 in punitive damages and over $359,000 in damages overall sends a clear message that the U.S. Department of Labor will not tolerate such behavior. The department’s holistic approach to vindicating workers’ rights is a powerful reminder to employers that retaliation against workers can have costly consequences.”“An employee was threatened with termination for simply requesting the wages they earned. The employers’ retaliation against the worker, withholding of the wages owed and the chilling effect these actions have on other employees are blatant violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” said Wage and Hour Division Northeast Regional Administrator Mark H. Watson, Jr. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “These employers’ egregious actions of firing workers for speaking to an OSHA inspector defy the law and place their employees at potential risk,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in Boston. “Discouraging or preventing workers from participating in an OSHA inspection may mask or delay identification of hazards that could harm workers. Employees have a right to participate in OSHA inspections and to file a whistleblower complaint if their employer retaliates against them for exercising their rights.” For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, contact the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division. Employers and workers can call the division confidentially with questions, regardless of their immigration status.OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 24 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, antitrust and anti-money laundering laws and for engaging in other related protected activities. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
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