Derek Queen was headed to work in a hurricane. He was a sales consultant at KB Home — a residential home builder — in Cypress. To get there from his home near the Medical Center, he took three different routes because his usual roads were all flooded from the rain carried by Hurricane Ike.
The electricity was out at the office when he arrived, so on his cell, Queen called his regional manager. “He told me, ‘Well, the lights should be on shortly — the whole community is out,’” Queen recalled. He had left his wife and one-year-old son at home during the storm. He had only been on the job for a few months, so Queen wasn’t going to ask for the day off. And despite the hurricane, his boss wasn't going to send him home either.
As a KB Home sales consultant, Queen and others say they were expected to man the sales office 363 days a year, sometimes 70 to 80 hours a week, with no weekends off. The sales consultants were paid only on commission when they sold a house, Queen said. And if they didn’t sell a house that week, well, there was no pay; instead there was a loan, which KB Home expected the employees to pay back once they did finally sell a house and earn commission.
Queen and more than 400 others brought a lawsuit against KB Home in 2011 in federal court, and this week, the trial date was set for December 3. During a press conference outside the Harris Count Civil Courthouse this week, several plaintiffs and their attorney claimed that KB Home violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantees overtime pay. "When you work hard in America," their attorney, Rhonda Wills said, "you’re supposed to be paid for it. That did not happen here.”
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None of the sales consultants were salaried; they had no minimum wage and no overtime pay, according to the workers. Queen said that, when he started out as a sales consultant, he was making roughly $25,000 to $30,000 a year, which, considering the hours he was working, Wills estimated came out to about $3 an hour. At times, because of the loan system, Queen said he could be in the hole $6,000 on a bad month. Because Queen and others didn’t earn commission until the sale closed on the house — which could take up to 180 days — they never wanted to quit the job. If they did, they wouldn’t get any of that money.
“My clients all made tremendous personal sacrifices,” Wills said. “They were caught up in a vicious cycle."
Wills said that, at the time they accepted the job, her clients understood that it was a commission-only position. What they didn't realize, she says, was that this violated federal law. Because they were onsite sales people, Wills argues, they were entitled to minimum wages and overtime pay. They also didn't realize at the onset that they would be working 70 hours or more per week in order to make enough sales, Wills says. Sometimes there could be up to six sales people in the office at once, all vying for the next customer to walk through the door. (A KB Home representative would not comment on the matter because of the pending litigation.)
Another former KB Home employee, Colden Brown, said that because of the long overtime hours, he didn’t get a chance to see his son play basketball, and celebrated many Father’s Days in the sales office. All he wants now, he said, is to get paid for it.