A federal judge in New Jersey has dismissed a class action alleging that individual officers of a company that cleaned up parts of the Jersey Shore following Hurricane Sandy denied fair wages to workers like tug boat operators and engineers.
In a May 29 decision, U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan of the District of New Jersey found that individual officers of New Jersey-based Bil-Jim Construction Co. Inc., a subcontractor hired to rebuild the beaches near Barnegat Bay, were not personally liable under the New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act. Sheridan, who denied plaintiffs the chance to amend their claims, cited his own 2016 ruling in a related case and in another lawsuit involving security system workers.
Paul DiGiorgio, of counsel at the Keefe Law Firm in Red Bank, New Jersey, who represented the plaintiffs, said Prevailing Wage Act claims still would go forward against the company defendants.
“The decision represents no setback at all to the merits of the case,” he wrote in an email. “Many of these workers came from distant states to help us recover from Sandy, enduring long hard months of working days, nights, weekends, and holidays—often sleeping in their cars between shifts. In New York, nearly all of the workers who helped Long Island recover from Sandy were either initially or eventually paid prevailing wages. If we allow this type of mistreatment to stand here in New Jersey, then who will come to help us rebuild next time?”
Ronald Tobia of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi in West Orange, New Jersey, and Gavin Rooney of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, New Jersey, who represented the Bil-Jim defendants, did not respond to a request for comment. The Chiesa firm also represented the main contractor, Alabama-based CrowderGulf, and two of its officers, which joined in the motion to dismiss. Raymond Bogan of Sinn, Fitzsimmons, Cantoli, Bogan & West in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, who represented another subcontractor in the case, New Jersey-based R. Kremer & Son Marine Contractors, declined to comment.
The case is the second filed by workers who claim they were not paid for overtime, weekends, holidays or other fair wages for cleaning up the damage from the 2012 “superstorm.” In 2016, Sheridan dismissed another case, brought by the same plaintiffs firm and later coordinated with the recent case for discovery, but allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. Instead, they asked the judge to clarify his order, insisting that, in court, he had said he would not dismiss the claims.
They also filed a case in 2017 against a mostly new set of defendants.
In opposing the motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs relied on the language of the New Jersey Wage Payment Law, which holds individual defendants liable under its definition of “employer.” The Prevailing Wage Act does not define “employer,” but relevant regulations define an employer as “any natural person, company, firm, subcontractor or other entity engaged in public work.”
“The issue at the heart of this motion is whether the Bil-Jim defendants fit within this definition of employer,” Sheridan wrote. Other courts, including a 2016 decision in New Jersey v. Haig’s Service by U.S. District Judge William Martini, also in New Jersey, found no individual liability in the Prevailing Wage Act. “For the above reasons, because the Bil-Jim defendants cannot be held individually liable under the PWA, defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted.”