LOWVILLE A dozen people have joined a Lewis County woman in a proposed $20 million federal class-action lawsuit against Stewarts Shops Inc. over alleged violations of state and federal wage and hour laws.
Holly Gregory filed action on behalf of herself and others similarly situated in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, in January against the Saratoga Springs-based convenience-store chain, which operates stores throughout the north country. She claims that hour and wage violations adversely affect about 4,500 employees throughout 330 convenience stores in New York and Vermont.
When Ms. Gregory filed the action, she was the lone plaintiff, but 12 people filed consents with the court this week agreeing to join the suit. Attorney Ryan M. Finn, Latham, who is representing Ms. Gregory, said he believes more will follow.
Our firm heard from more than 200 people that are interested, Mr. Finn said Friday. I believe that as more people join, it becomes easier for others to join.
The action must be certified by the court as a class action, which has not yet happened. If it becomes certified, all employees who are believed to have been in a situation similar to Ms. Gregorys will be notified of their option to join the suit. Stewarts has not filed a response to the suit, as Mr. Finn is planning to file an amended complaint by Friday and the company has indicated in court documents that it will respond to the amended complaint within 30 days.
According to the suit, the company has systematically failed to pay its workforce for all hours worked, allegedly resulting in employees being paid below state and federal minimum wage. It further is claimed that the company has received a special permit from the state Department of Labor to allow 20-minute paid meal breaks under certain circumstances, but does not provide the breaks or other breaks called for under state law.
Ms. Gregory, who worked at the Stewarts in West Carthage, claims that among her duties was closing the store at 11:30 p.m., with her scheduled day to end by 11:45 p.m. However, she maintains that most nights she ended up working until 12:30 or 1 a.m., additional time for which she was not compensated. She brought the issue up with her manager and assistant manager, but was told repeatedly she would not be paid for the extra time, according to the suit.
She also claims the company has a policy requiring employees to show up early for their shifts to discuss work tasks so the transition between shifts is smooth. Likewise, employees are expected to stay after their shifts to assist in the transition. Ms. Gregory contends that, on average, she worked an additional 15 minutes per shift without being paid to help with the shift changes. The stores do not use a time clock or punch card and employees are paid based on the hours they are scheduled to work and are discouraged from making changes to the schedule to reflect time actually worked, the suit states.