Fair Work Center is a hub for workers to understand and exercise their rights on the job. This edition of Fair Work News brings you stories of what justice on the job looks like for workers who were victims of wage theft, discrimination and more. Read on to learn how the Fair Work Legal Clinic is recovering workers’ stolen wages and helping enforce laws like Seattle’s Public Accommodations Ordinance and Hotel Employee Health & Safety Initiative.
The Queen Mary Tea Room gets on board
Coleman worked as a server at the Queen Mary Tea Room in North Seattle. Coleman, who is non-binary, noticed that the Tea Room maintained gender-exclusive bathrooms, with “ladies” and “gentlemen” written on the outside of each door. Indeed, the tea room had been cited by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights several times for violation of Seattle’s Public Accommodations Ordinance, which, among other things, requires all single-occupant restrooms to be gender-neutral restrooms. After each citation, the owner took down the signs, but moved them from the outside to the inside of the door or replaced them with pink and blue ribbons. Coleman raised this concern with the management, but nothing was done. Soon after, Coleman was terminated. Fair Work Center filed suit on Coleman’s behalf and negotiated a settlement by which the Queen Mary Tea Room compensated Coleman, agreed to change its practice and hosted a staff training on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination by LGBTQ Allyship, one of our collaborative partners.
Wage theft at a residential construction company
Martin served as a foreman at a residential construction company. Most of the workers on his crew primarily spoke Spanish, and because Martin was more fluent in English, he served as a communicator with the employer to determine and secure payments for the jobs his crew worked. These contracts between the workers and the employer were oral and based in trust that both sides would uphold their end of the deal. This trust was broken when the employer refused to pay Martin and his peers for their work.
Unfamiliar with the law and unaware of any legal recourse available to him and his coworkers, Martin came to Fair Work Center worried that he would not be able to secure payment for their work. This money was essential to their livelihood. We assisted Martin in preparing a demand letter and filing his case in small claims court. The week before his scheduled court hearing in September, the employer paid Martin and his coworkers everything they were owed. Just as we are certain that Martin will continue to stand up for his fellow workers with the information he learned from visiting Fair Work Center, we are certain that his former employer will think twice before trying to exploit its employees again.
Local Montessori school learns a lesson
Leslie has been a teacher for most of her career. Recently, she took a job as an assistant teacher at a Montessori school in King County. She initially contacted Fair Work Center with questions about her employee handbook. Specifically, she wanted to know if she was entitled to receive pay for a week-long vacation. While looking through her paychecks, we discovered inconsistencies with nearly every one. She worked for the Montessori school for several months, but only one of her paychecks in that time was accurate. We calculated a total of 84.5 hours of missing wages, equivalent to nearly $2,500. We helped Leslie file a case in small claims court this fall, and we will be supporting her throughout the process.
An undocumented immigrant looking for work, Beatriz was excited to take a job cleaning apartments in an affluent Bellevue neighborhood. Soon after she was hired, her employer doubled the number of apartments she needed to clean each day, regardless of how long it took. Beatriz tried but quickly found it was impossible to complete her duties without working a 12-hour shift, something she could not do as a mother with children at home.
When she tried speaking up about her workload and asking for a raise to compensate for the extra work, her employer cut off communication and disappeared without ever paying her for the days she already worked. Unsure of her rights and concerned about retaliation from the employer with regard to her immigration status, Beatriz came to Fair Work Center to learn what protections she had and how she could get paid. After discussing her options, we assisted Beatriz in gathering evidence and filing a complaint with L&I. Two weeks later, L&I informed her that her complaint was processed, and she would be paid the $602 in wages she was owed.
Delivering justice for delivery driver
Yakub first came to Fair Work Center in 2017. As a delivery driver for a small company that contracts with Amazon and others, Yakub started his day bright and early and worked long hours, but he enjoyed his work. Unfortunately, trouble struck soon after he started. He received a ticket because his employer’s van did not have proof of insurance. Instead of paying for the ticket or working with Yakub, the employer tried to put the responsibility on him. In addition, the employer refused to pay him his final paycheck of more than $1,000. We helped Yakub assess different options for getting paid and assisted him in filing his case in small claims court.
He returned recently, almost a year later, with great news – he received a small claims judgment for almost $2,000! The payment covered his final paycheck, the ticket, and associated filing fees. But he also had some bad news. The employer was refusing to pay him and he had no idea how to get his money. By researching the different methods of collecting on a judgment, we helped prepare and file a writ of garnishment against the employer, thereby allowing him to collect the money he was owed.
Hotel worker stands up for health & safety
Lucie is a housekeeper at a hotel in Seattle. Her employer failed to comply with the Hotel Employee Health and Safety Initiative, which limits the amount of cleaning work hotel workers can be required to do in a shift. Not surprisingly, she was injured as the result and asked for light duty while she recovered. The hotel refused her request and, instead, fired her.
Lucie came to Fair Work Center distraught having lost her income, health insurance, and the ability to pay her mounting medical bills. We recognized that Lucie’s immediate medical needs could be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, so we assisted Lucie in filing her claim with the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). We also connected Lucie with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights to make a complaint of disability discrimination for the hotel’s failure to accommodate her disability and termination. Finally, we connected Lucie with advocates for hotel workers, and we will continue assisting her as needed in addressing the hotel’s ongoing violations of the initiative.
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