District Paid Fines of $78,000 in 2006
By RON AIKEN
Multiple sources have confirmed that the U.S. Department of Labor today launched an investigation into alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act at Richland School district One first reported by Quorum last month.
Agents from the Department of Labor are expected at the district office this morning to begin the investigation into allegations that approximately 45 employees have been denied overtime, in some cases for many years, through inaccurate classification on the part of human resources chief Sanita Savage Cousar despite her having been notified of the error.
If violations are found, it won’t be the first time the school district — or Cousar, for that matter — has been in hot water with the U. S. Department of Labor over violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Back in 2006, Cousar (then Sanita Savage) was in charge of human resources at the district when it was found guilty by the Department of Labor of failing to pay coaches overtime they were due over a three-year span from 2004-2006. For the 24 violations found, the district was forced to pay $78,313.07, records obtained by Quorum from the Department of Labor show.
This time around, former Head of Classification Employment Machelle Thompson notified Cousar during an inspection of classification categories in advance of a new federal minimum wage threshold that approximately 45 employees who were performing duties that should have allowed them to claim overtime were incorrectly categorized, depriving them of a significant am0ount of income, in some cases over a period of several years.
After Thompson alerted Cousar, her supervisor, of the problem in an email in December, Thompson received a letter of reprimand for insubordination. Two days after she protested that decision she was placed on administrative leave by Richland One Superintendent Craig Witherspoon. When her grievance hearing took place some three weeks later it was with Cousar alone. The grievance was denied.
Thompson’s appeal of that decision and her termination was heard on March 28 by Witherspoon alone. He had five days to respond, and on Monday (yesterday) he did. the appeals were denied.
Today (Tuesday), the incident that sparked the loss of Thompson’s job will be scrutinized by an agency neither Cousar nor Witherspoon control.
“It’s unfortunate but not unpredictable that the district finds itself in this position again,” Thompson said. “Sanita’s been down this road before.
She and Mr. Witherspoon could have handled getting that information in a completely different way than continuing to deny workers what they are owed by law.
“The law is the law. They can fire me, but they can’t fire the law.”
Thompson’s suit against the district, filed Feb. 16, names Cousar and longtime district staff attorney Susan Williams.
At the time of her termination on Feb. 10, Thompson was making $83,400. Cousar makes $117,470, while Williams makes $135,766.
According to the Department of Labor’s website, investigations consist of the following steps:
- “Examination of records to determine which laws or exemptions apply. These records include, for example, those showing the employer’s annual dollar volume of business transactions, involvement in interstate commerce, and work on government contracts. Information from an employer’s records will not be revealed to unauthorized persons.
- Examination of payroll and time records, and taking notes or making transcriptions or photocopies essential to the investigation.
- Interviews with certain employees in private. The purpose of these interviews is to verify the employer’s payroll and time records, to identify workers’ particular duties in sufficient detail to decide which exemptions apply, if any, and to confirm that minors are legally employed. Interviews are normally conducted on the employer’s premises. In some instances, present and former employees may be interviewed at their homes or by mail or telephone.
- When all the fact-finding steps have been completed, the investigator will ask to meet with the employer and/or a representative of the firm who has authority to reach decisions and commit the employer to corrective actions if violations have occurred. The employer will be told whether violations have occurred and, if so, what they are and how to correct them. If back wages are owed to employees because of minimum wage or overtime violations, the investigator will request payment of back wages and may ask the employer to compute the amounts due.”
Federal law allows the Department of Labor to collect back wages and liquidated damages, assess any civil monetary penalties and litigate both civil and criminal cases.
Reach Aiken at (803) 200-8809. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @QuorumColumbia.