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December 30, 2009
Employers Jailed for ‘Unconscionable' Failure to Pay Court-Ordered Back Wages

The owners of a residential cleaning service were taken into custody and later released after failing to comply with a court order directing payment of $3.5 million in back wages, plus interest, fines, and liquidated damages, to at least 385 workers.

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“It is unconscionable that an employer would continue to disregard the obligation to pay vulnerable workers, even after being ordered to do so by a federal judge,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

The owners of Southern California Maid Service and Carpet Cleaning Inc. were taken into custody Friday, October 30, and released Tuesday evening, November 3, after appearing before the judge and agreeing to start making payments.

The court sided with the U.S. Department of Labor in finding that the company had wrongly classified its home and carpet cleaners as independent contractors and failed to pay them the federally required minimum wage or overtime for hours worked over 40 per week.

The court awarded back wages to the workers on August 21, 2007, following an investigation by the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division. Judge The court also ordered payment of more than $1 million in liquidated damages for violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The Labor Department filed civil contempt charges for continued failure to comply with the order. In April 2009, the court ordered daily fines against the company of $2,000, plus an additional $200 per day each from the company owners.

The district office of DOL's Wage and Hour Division learned of the employer's practices through its participation in the Employment Education and Outreach (EMPLEO) partnership. EMPLEO is an alliance of organizations and government agencies that assist Spanish-speaking workers and employers with work-related concerns. Callers to a toll-free helpline, 877-55-AYUDA (552-9832), are referred to EMPLEO partner organizations for assistance.

The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage and receive overtime at one and one-half times their regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers must also maintain accurate time and payroll records. Solis v. Southern California Maid Service and Carpet Cleaning Inc., Case Number: CV 06-3903 AG (MANx), U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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