The lawyer representing two Metro employees in a pending lawsuit believes that the agency has cheated hundreds of its workers in the last couple of years, not paying them for the work they do. Now he wants those employees to come forward.
"I could win this lawsuit nine ways to Sunday," attorney Rex Burch tells Hair Balls. "Unless they affirmatively join, they won't get anything."
The whole thing started back in the fall of 2008, when, according to the lawsuit, Metro managers instructed employees to quit reporting overtime because they wouldn't be getting paid for it any longer. Two hourly-paid employees, Bente Sellars and Bridget Cormier, complained to higher-ups at Metro that they couldn't do their job without working overtime. According to Burch, the problem was compounded because Metro also cut a position from the department where Sellars and Cormier work.
Sellars and Cormier, who work at Metro's downtown headquarters as account managers, made a lot of money from overtime hours. In fact, Burch says, when Metro cut the overtime, it meant the women went from making about $65,000 a year to $35,000.
But the complaints didn't change anything, Burch says, so Sellars and Cormier filed the lawsuit.
"I'm looking forward to taking Metro on on that," Burch says. "There's always a drive to do more with less, but it's amazing to me the sort of budget protestations that I'm hearing from Metro, given the fact that they can fly [Metro president] Frank Wilson and this woman all over the country."
The original lawsuit was filed a couple months ago, and after it was, Sellars and Cormier, who have both worked for Metro for about 20 years, returned to work. Metro managers called a meeting, according to Burch, to tell the employees that the no-overtime policy was sticking.
"Interesting enough, they still didn't say, 'You shouldn't be working any harder.'" Burch says. "So there's a limit on the number of hours you can get paid for, but there doesn't appear to be a limit on the number of hours you can work."
After the lawsuit was filed, Burch says, a lawyer got an anonymous letter in the mail saying that "there are a bunch of other folks that are being cheated, too. This really should be a class action."
"There's been some scuttlebutt in the [Metro] office about, 'Why can't we get help, too? It's happening to us,'" Burch says. "Everything is coming from [Metro's downtown headquarters], that's where I'm hearing it from, in terms of workers I've talked to directly. There's rumors that out in the bus shed, there are problems out there also."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
So the lawsuit was amended last week to bring in collective action allegations.
If the case makes it to trial, Burch says he'll have no problem rounding up evidence on the hours Sellars and Cormier worked. They worked in an area that was videotaped.
Burch says,"In terms of proving they were doing more work than they were paid for, this case is going to be a lay down."
Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts sent us Metro's comment on the lawsuit: "Metro has complied and intends to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act. We were just served with an amended complaint making allegations under the FLSA and we are looking into the matter."