Parts of a lawsuit against Stewart’s Shops alleging unpaid wages to employees can proceed as a class-action case, a federal judge has decided.
The Sept. 28 order by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Thomas J. MacAvoy means current and former employees could benefit from any damages the court orders related to alleged labor law violations by the convenience store chain.
The decision means attorneys will notify company workers and former workers about three possible grounds for action, going back six years, to try to determine if the practices were widespread.
“The court approved class-action status after the court reviewed a substantial evidentiary record made by both parties,” said Ryan Finn of E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, the lawyer for the employees.
Jones Hacker Murphy was appointed by MacAvoy to represent the employees who aren’t part of the lawsuit, as a class.
Stewart’s, however, denies any violations. In a statement, the company noted that some of the claims in the original lawsuit have been denied class-action status.
“We feel strongly that the remaining [claims] will be denied class status as well, once all the evidence can be considered,” said Stewart’s spokeswoman Maria D’Amelia.
The federal lawsuit, filed in January 2014 by a former employee in a Jefferson County shop, alleged Stewart’s employees worked time for which they weren’t paid, and made other allegations of state and federal labor law violations.
Since the original filing, more than 30 other current or former employees have joined the action as co-plaintiffs, alleging the same Fair Labor Standards Act violations by the company.
The recent decision grants class-action treatment to three claims: that employees who worked more than 40 hours weren’t paid time-and-a-half, or weren’t paid for incidental work such as bank runs or shift overlaps; employees called in for meetings weren’t paid the required three-hour minimum; and employee didn’t receive uninterrupted meal breaks.
“The next step in the process is to send out notifications to the employees and former employees who may have been adversely affected by the pay practices in Stewart’s Shops locations,” Finn said.
Stewart’s statement said that under federal law, letters to employees have to go out before a judge can review the evidence. “These notices are solely a step in the process and in no way an admission or indication of guilt,” D’Amelia said.
“We value our partners, who are part owners of our company, and have a long history of being fair to them, both with pay and benefits,” she said.
The Saratoga County-based convenience store chain has about 330 shops across eastern and northern New York as well as southwest Vermont, and about 4,500 employees.
Of the roughly 4,000 who are clerk-cashiers in company stores, MacAvoy’s ruling noted that three-quarters are part time and work less than 30 hours per week.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettestevc on Twitter.