BOSTON– The U.S. Department of Labor has obtained a consent preliminary injunction, which prevents a Holbrook tree service company and its sole officer from retaliating against former and current employees who cooperate with an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division or engage in other activity protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The department’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that Ronan A. De Souza – the director and sole officer of PS Tree Service Inc. – made chilling threats to a former employee and the employee’s family member in retaliation for their participation in the Wage and Hour Division’s investigation of PS Tree.

In its complaint, the department alleges De Souza:

Sent a teenage employee messages on a texting app, in which he expressed a belief that the employee’s legal guardian had made a complaint about PS Tree.
Sent an employee and the employee’s legal guardian intimidating messages concerning the investigation, including one warning that if they did not keep quiet, they both would “pay.”
Replied to the legal guardian’s message that they were looking for a lawyer to help address De Souza’s threats, writing, “Go right now, otherwise tomorrow will be too late.”

To provide immediate protection to the threatened employee, the employee’s family, and other employees and their families, the department obtained a consent preliminary injunction from the court. Among other things, the order prohibits the defendants and their agents from instructing employees not to speak to the department, and also enjoins them from threatening or inflicting any physical harm or verbal abuse on any current or former employee or their family members because the employee engaged in protected activity under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the order, the department also will notify employees that they have the right to speak with the department’s representatives about possible wage and hour violations and participate in the department’s ongoing investigations, free from threats, intimidation, or other retaliation from the defendants.

In the ongoing lawsuit, the department seeks a permanent order restraining the defendants and their agents from retaliating against employees who assert their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition, the department seeks an order awarding punitive damages for the defendants’ unlawful retaliation against the employee and the employee’s family.

“Effective enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act depends on workers feeling safe asserting their rights or simply asking questions about their pay without fear of retaliation,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Carlos Matos in Boston. “This is particularly critical for vulnerable, at-risk workers who may already be hesitant to come forward and make their voices heard.”

“Threatening an employee or their family for cooperating with a government investigation is unlawful and egregious,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher in Boston. “We want employers to understand that the Department of Labor will take swift legal action, as we did in this case, to stop employers from unlawfully threatening or intimidating employees. We also want employees to know that we will take such legal action to defend them against retaliation when they bravely assert their rights.”

Workers can call the Wage and Hour Division confidentially with questions – regardless of their immigration status – and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages.

For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’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.

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