The claim arose from the company’s failure to include preparation time spent at work before they could communicate with customers on behalf of the company, training activities, bathroom breaks and two rest periods as time worked.
Jeff Young, a lawyer with the Augusta-based law firm of Johnson, Webbert & Young, who represents the employees, said Thursday that he appreciates that Argo employs many Mainers.
However, he added, “it’s unfortunate — but all too common — that companies underpay their workers through the use of such illegal schemes.”
Hannah Levecque of Portland worked as a customer service representative at Argo’s branch office in Portland from June 2013 until January 2014, according to the complaint filed last year in U.S. District Court in Portland. She said she wasn’t paid for time after she reported to work at the office and logged on to the company’s shift planner software and before she was able to start accepting calls on the company’s software that connected her with the company’s clients.
She said she spent her time performing activities benefiting the company, such as sending and returning business-related emails and engaging in mandatory training in an effort to remain current on her knowledge of Argo’s customers’ products and services. She also wasn’t paid for bathroom breaks and employer-required 10-minute rest breaks.
In December 2013, the company changed its policy to pay for one 15-minute rest break per day, according to court papers.
Another Argo worker, Beth Dazet of Portland, was hired in June 2013 as a customer service representative. In the complaint, she said Argo failed to pay her for all of the hours she worked at the Portland branch office.
Additional plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleging similar violations are:
* Nicholas Passafiume of Old Orchard Beach, who worked at the Portland branch from May 2013 to January 2014;
* Celeste Wing of Hartland, who worked at the Pittsfield branch office from April-August 2013;
* Matthew Violette of South Portland, who worked at the Portland branch as a salesman and customer service representative from May 2013 to April 2014;
* Wayne Smith of Westbrook, who worked at the Portland branch as a customer service representative from May 2013 to July 2014.
They are suing under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the Maine Employment Practices Act and Maine Minimum Wage and Overtime Law. Argo Marketing is named as a defendant as well as Jason Levesque, its owner and chief executive officer, and Daniel Molloy, Argo’s chief operating officer.
Levesque and Molloy had filed motions to dismiss the complaint against them as individuals, arguing they didn’t have sufficient involvement in the company to be held liable.
U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock Jr. rejected that claim regarding the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, but ordered last week that the state-based claims against the two officers be dismissed because of differences between state and federal law.
The state and federal claims against Argo will continue to go forward, Woodcock ordered.
The plaintiffs have filed a motion to allow other current and former Argo workers who experienced similar situations regarding their unpaid hours to join the suit. If the judge were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, under federal law, Argo would be required to provide them with the names and contact information of the company’s other former and current employees in an effort to give them the opportunity to “opt-in” to a so-called “collective action” lawsuit initiated by Hannah Levecque and her co-plaintiffs.
If the judge were to order in favor of the plaintiffs under state law to pursue a so-called “class action” case against Argo, all of the company’s former and current workers paid in a manner similar to the plaintiffs would automatically be included in the complaint and would be required to “opt out” if they wished not to be party to the civil action.
The state and federal claims are being heard in federal court.
Jason Levesque said Thursday that “five or six disgruntled employees out of 500 are looking at making something up.” The legal process is running its course, he said.
“The actions of these individuals do not represent the will of the vast majority of my current and former employees,” he said.
“Anybody can file suit now and claim anything they want without any sort of backing,” he said. “And they can make almost anything up, which is unfortunate, especially with regards to the amount of money and time I’ve spent in the three communities where we have locations and the dedication we’ve made to our workforce and the family that we’ve built. I can’t take anything personally in business, but it is quite hurtful.”