The chief executive officer and president of a upscale Southport salon has been slapped with a prospective federal class action lawsuit alleging she didn’t pay workers for training and staff meetings. The lawsuit also alleges workers often put in more than 40 hours weekly and were not paid time-and-a-half for the overtime, as required by law.
The amended lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on Tuesday, alleges Cher Anderson, the principal owner of Total Look Salon & Spa, had about 12 hours of training for employees a month, but didn’t pay for that time. In addition, employees were required to spend about one hour a week working on training assignments, usually on mannequins, for no pay.
The staff meetings were less frequent and occurred about four times a year, according to Gary Phelan, an attorney for former employee and assistant stylist Nicole Johnson, a named plaintiff in the putative class action. Johnson worked for the salon for 18 months before being constructively discharged in March.
The salon is accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act. The state Department of Labor states employees must be paid for things such as training and staff meetings if those events are mandatory. While the company claims in its written policy that the meetings are voluntary, Phelan says it is clear they are really mandatory.
“The training was an integral part of employment at the hair salon.” said Phelan, a shareholder at Stratford-based Mitchell & Sheahan. “It will, though, be the burden of the employee to prove it was not voluntary.”
The lawsuit cites comments by Anderson, under oath, at a Connecticut Department of Labor unemployment appeal hearing in July as proof the employee training was not voluntary.
According to the complaint, Anderson said, “If they want to advance with the company, it’s highly advisable that they attend the classes.” That statement, Phelan said, makes it clear that employees were frowned on for not attending training.
As for staff meetings, Phelan said employees “needed to get permission not to attend. There was pressure to attend.”
Anderson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, and the salon had not assigned an attorney to the matter by press time.
The lawsuit cites two prospective classes, both of which are very similar and could overlap. They are the FLSA class and the Connecticut class. Both classes includes those employed since Sept. 27, 2012. The Connecticut class also includes those who were subject to the salon’s written policies since Oct. 30, 2016. The latter revolves around the company’s alleged pay secrecy policy in which employees are prohibited from discussing their compensation with their peers. But, Phelan said, in July 2015 Connecticut passed the Connecticut Pay Equity and Fairness Law, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for disclosing their salaries to colleagues.
The company’s pay secrecy policy was written before July 2015, but Phelan said the salon never changed it after the law was enacted.
In total, Phelan said there are probably about 50 people in both classes. He estimated the lawsuit will be seeking “about $1 million for the classes, including attorney fees.” It’s estimated, Phelan said, that Johnson is entitled to an additional $75 per week, or about $6,500 in unpaid wages, for her time at the salon.
The lawsuit is also fighting claims by the salon that Johnson owes the business $1,246 for, among other things, educational costs and paid vacation days.
Attorney Reese Mitchell assisted Phelan on the case.
The matter will be heard before Judge Robert Chatigny in Hartford.