Employer "retaliation" Prompts State Suit

Attorney General Spitzer today filed a novel anti-retaliation lawsuit against a Jamestown company that sued workers who complained about underpayment of their wages.

"Employers must not be allowed to retaliate against or intimidate workers who come forward to assert their legal rights," Spitzer said.

The company, Superior Jamestown Corp., filed a defamation lawsuit against two workers who complained that they were not being paid the proper wage on numerous New York City construction jobs. The two workers - Gerald Pennant of Queens and Ramon Espino of Brooklyn - filed complaints with the Office of the New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who is responsible for enforcing prevailing wage rates on public work projects in the city.

The City Comptroller's initial investigation determined that Superior did indeed owe approximately $126,000 in underpaid wages on eight subway projects, and requested that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority withhold this amount from Superior's prime contractor, CAB Associates of Queens.

The City Comptroller gave Superior an opportunity to resolve the complaints informally, but the company was unwilling to pay more than a small fraction of the claimed underpayments.

When Superior learned that the case against it would go forward, it filed a retaliatory $2 million defamation lawsuit against Espino and Pennant in Chautauqua County Supreme Court.

The City Comptroller then asked the Attorney General to step in to protect the workers from harassment by their employer's legal maneuvers.

Spitzer's lawsuit request that the court dismiss Superior's lawsuit as unlawful retaliation against the workers. The Attorney General's suit cites Section 215 of the state labor law, which says that "no employer shall discipline, penalize or discriminate against any employee who has made a complaint ... or caused a (labor rights) proceeding to be commenced."

Superior, located at Jones and Gifford avenues in Jamestown, employs about 200 individuals, generating nearly $20 million dollars in annual revenues from building and installing prefabricated metal and bullet-proof glass products.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General James W. Versocki and Section Chief Pico Ben-Amotz of the Attorney General's Labor Bureau, which is under the direction of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith.