Persistence Pays Off: Worker Retrieves $12,000 in Lost Overtime
*The worker’s name and the name of employer has been changed at the worker’s request*
My name is Saul Mendez. I’ve been living in DC for five years and in the United States for 11 years. I worked for four years at two popular restaurants in Dupont Circle who have the same owners. After so many years working there, in October of 2014, they fired me because I asked to take a paid sick day. The truth is that it is really sad that they commit these kind of labor abuses against us. On top of the fact that they didn’t pay me well, they also didn’t pay me overtime. They make you work for lots of hours and don’t treat you well.
A few weeks after I was unjustly fired, I went to the Employment Justice Center to see what options I had. At the legal clinic, they helped me to write a letter to my employer demanding that I be paid the overtime that I was owed. Two weeks passed without any response so I went to the Office of Wage and Hour.
The first time I went there, I went alone. They accepted my claim about the overtime I was owed but they told me I couldn’t make a claim about paid sick days. I spoke to Emma, one of the organizers at the EJC and she told me that a new law passed which says that employers can’t retaliate against their workers when they need to take time off when they are sick or have a doctor’s appointment. She went with me to the Office of Wage and Hour and only then did they agree that I could make a claim about being fired.
One month later, my employer paid me for the paid sick day I took along with triple damages, a total of almost $300. But my case about the three years of overtime that I was owed still wasn’t resolved. I called the Office of Wage Hour almost every week, asking about my case. They told me that my boss said that I hadn’t worked at the restaurant for long, she didn’t want to acknowledge the work that I had done for them. The government called her to make appointments for mediation with her, but she didn’t show up to four consecutive dates.
I was hopeless about this process. I’d already spent four months fighting for my wages. In February 2015, I wrote testimony for the Department of Employment Services Performance Oversight Hearing at the DC Council, asking them to hire more bilingual staff so they’d be able to resolve cases like mine more quickly. I know someone else from work who also had a case against our employer but he gave up because it was taking too long.
After all this, in April 2015, the Office of Wage Hour called me to say that they’d arrived at an agreement with my employer to pay me $10,000 in overtime. But the office never consulted with me about their negotiations, they simply arrived at an agreement without discussing with me. I went back to the Office of Wage hour, this time with Andrew, one of the attorneys at the EJC. They told us that they were going to ask for more money from my boss, and they got it.
On April 20th, I received my first check and finally I’m getting paid for the overtime I worked over two years ago: a total of $12,000 paid over two years. Now I go to the DOES office on Minnesota Avenue every month to pick up my check. I’ve been able to work only one job and leave my second job so that I can enjoy the summer a little bit.
Thanks to the EJC for supporting me until the end. I feel good, but I think that workers shouldn’t have to fight so hard for their wages and that the government should do more to resolve these kinds of cases.