Worker Awarded $2301.04 in ‘Wage Theft’ Case in Ithaca Small Claims Court

(Ithaca) Workers rights in Tompkins County took a another step forward on March 4th, 2010 as City Judge Judith Rossiter ruled in favor of a former employee of City Health Club, located at 402 W. Green Street, Ithaca, NY. The judgment, which totaled $2301.04, was decided in Small Claims Court without objection from the health club’s management.

The claim represents back wages for the employee who worked at City Health Club from April 2009 through February 2010. The judgment awarded today sends the message to local employers that wage theft will not be tolerated in Tompkins County.

When employees are facing nonpayment or underpayment of salary, they have several options for addressing the problem: they can file a case with the NYS Department of Labor or can file a claim with their local small claims court. The recent cases of wage theft adjudicated in Ithaca’s Small Claims Court has the two-fold effect of encouraging more workers in Tompkins County to come forward with their problems at work, as well as letting unscrupulous business owners know that there will be consequences for their actions. In such a period of economic uncertainty it is all the more important that workers are assertive of their rights. Arthur Whitman, the employee involved in this case, said “It feels really good to finally have some resolution to my case and to know that soon I will be able to pay some of the money I owe to my landlady. I can move on now.”
Here’s what we usually suggest when an employee or former employee has not been paid:
* First of all, communication is best. Have you spoken to your boss or supervisor, accounting or human resources departments, if applicable?
* If that is not an option or hasn’t successfully resolved the problem, we at the Workers’ Center are willing to make a call for you. Frequently, we are able to mediate a dispute between worker and employee.
* If communication has not worked, the next step in the process (if the amount owed is under $5000) is to file either a Small Claims case or a Department of Labor claim for unpaid wages. Lately, we’ve been leaning towards Small Claims as the easiest and quickest route. The Departments of Labor, both state and federal, have been severely cut over the years; there just aren’t enough investigators to handle all the complaints filed. Hence, the Small Claims court option.
What we hope to accomplish by taking a case to Small Claims is not just resolution of the problem at hand but also a message to other unpaid employees that they do have options available to them. Too many times, employees who have not received their pay write them off as a hard lesson learned. Your wages are yours: it is illegal to make a person work without compensation.