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April 5, 2011 5:59 PM

Lawsuit Accuses Dewey, Staffing Firm of Wage and Hour Violations

Posted by Tom Huddleston Jr.

Dewey & LeBoeuf, along with staffing firm Robert Half International, Inc., is being accused by one of the firm's network operations specialists of failure to pay overtime, in violation of labor laws, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Manhattan on March 30.

Attorneys from New York employment firm Samuel & Stein filed the complaint on behalf of Charlemagne Dumay, the IT worker in question. Dumay, working through Robert Half, is a temp who was assigned to the firm beginning in 2005. He is still employed by Robert Half and has been on a day-to-day assignment at Dewey's network operations center since 2009.

The complaint, a would-be class action, alleges that Dumay has regularly worked more than 40 hours a week in recent years without being paid any overtime for the excess hours. Dumay says he received appropriate overtime pay while assigned to work at Dewey between 2005 and 2008, according to the complaint. But starting in 2009, when Dumay claims he was working as much as 48 to 56 hours per week, Dewey and Robert Half allegedly have not paid for overtime, the complaint says. (Download the complaint here.) 

According to the complaint, Dumay was paid at his standard work rate--$22 per hour--allegedly receiving no overtime premium for the work performed from 2009 to the present. The suit alleges that both the law firm and the staffing firm are in violation of multiple labor laws. The complaint specifically cites the Fair Labor Standards Act, New York Labor Law, and New York State Department of Labor regulations.

Dumay has filed the lawsuit as a putative class action, "on behalf of himself and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated," the document says. He is seeking relief in the form of unpaid compensation, attorneys' fees, and various damages.

Both Dewey & LeBoeuf and Robert Half International declined requests to comment on the lawsuit.

"We think there's some strong evidence in this case that Mr. Dumay was not paid properly," David Stein, one of Dumay's attorneys, says.

Lawsuits like this one typically are filed as would-be class actions because there is a belief that the alleged payment practices extend beyond just the primary individual, Stein says.

Wage and hour issues at law firms have been at the center of a couple of recent lawsuits. Early last year, 40 secretaries sued Ohio patent boutique Turocy & Watson, as The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, reported in February 2010. And last July, Labaton Sucharow faced allegations over the firm's alleged refusal to pay overtime to a contract attorney. (The Turocy & Watson case reached a $160,000 settlement, in May, and a U.S. district court judge ordered the discontinuance of the Labaton Sucharow case, in October.)

Seyfarth Shaw's seventh annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, released in January, shows that workplace class actions were on the rise last year. (Note: Seyfarth has represented Robert Half in litigation matters in the past.) As previously reported, Seyfarth's study reveals that wage and hour disputes dominated the class action docket last year, with 6,761 filings representing a 10 percent rise from 2009. 

The rise in such disputes following the recession, combined with a renewed dedication to their prosecution--the report notes the EEOC's new goal of emphasizing lawsuits that take on systemic discrimination among larger groups of workers--could make 2011 a prime year for workplace class actions, Seyfarth predicts.

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I'm not surprised that law firms (even big ones) are getting hit with lawsuits for violations of labor laws. As a practice management consultant to solo and small firms, I see similar violations on an all-too-regular basis. Some attorneys seem to think that calling someone "salaried" exempts the employee from overtime pay. By the same token, I've found many attorneys who believe that if an employee only works part-time and submits an invoice for time worked, they are, of course, an "independent contractor" and, thus, exempt from OT pay, as well as withholding. One of my clients told me I was wrong because her CPA (who has no employees) told her that her part-time legal assistant was an independent contractor because "if she doesn't work, she doesn't get paid." Well, that proves it, doesn't it?

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