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Attorney General Ellison sues subcontractor for obstructing wage investigation, intimidating workers

 

October 26, 2022



October 25, 2022 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that he has filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court against construction contractor Leo Pimentel and his companies, Property Maintenance & Construction LLC and Property Maintenance & Construction Inc. (PMC), alleging that they obstructed the ongoing investigation of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry into PMC's alleged failure to pay its workers the overtime wages required by law. PMC's obstruction has taken the form of actively dissuading workers from cooperating with DLI, failing to keep appropriate employment records, and refusing to provide DLI with the records it does have, despite its legal obligation to do so. PMC has recently performed subcontract work at numerous construction sites around the metro area, including the Viking Lakes project in Eagan.

“Every Minnesota worker should take home every dollar they earn — period, no exceptions,” Attorney General Ellison said. “Part of my job as Attorney General is to protect Minnesotans from wage theft, and one of the ways that I can do so is by making sure that our partners in labor standards enforcement like DLI can fully and completely investigate wrongdoing by employers,” Attorney General Ellison said. “Mr. Pimentel’s and his companies’ workers have alleged that they’re victims of wage theft. DLI is using its power under the law to investigate those allegations, but Mr. Pimentel is refusing to cooperate with DLI's investigation and is actively trying to throw wrenches into the gears. DLI has been seeking information from PMC for over four months, but PMC has sought to delay and impede DLI at every step. I’m taking him to court to make sure DLI can do its job.”

Investigation and allegations

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office revealed that Pimentel has grown increasingly concerned about DLI looking into his business practices since 2021 and that he has actively misled workers about their rights and discouraged them from speaking with investigators from DLI. After Pimentel became aware of DLI's investigation, he ramped up his efforts to derail the investigation, calling worker meetings and blaming DLI's investigation on the PMC employees who cooperated with DLI. Pimentel and PMC also blamed cooperating workers with its decision to cut worker hours. At the same time, Pimentel has consistently refused to provide DLI with worker information and time records, impeding DLI's investigation and preventing it from determining whether workers are owed overtime wages. PMC even attempted to shift the blame for its failure to keep accurate time records on employees in its submissions to DLI.

The Legislature recognized that wage theft is an issue in the construction industry when it passed a law that construction workers are presumptively considered employees unless they're registered with the State as a construction contractor. Even then, construction workers are employees unless they meet every part of a nine-factor test. As an employer, PMC is required to keep information about its employees and to make it available to DLI on 72 hours’ notice.

The lawsuit alleges that Pimentel and PMC have violated the law in three primary ways: (1) hindering and delaying DLI's investigation by threatening and coercing employees not to contact DLI; (2) repeatedly failing to keep the employment records they are required to keep by law; and (3) refusing to provide DLI with all of the records it requested. Attorney General Ellison is seeking an order requiring PMC to comply with DLI's investigation, fully and promptly respond to DLI's demand for records, an injunction prohibiting the defendants from engaging in further obstruction, civil penalties, and recovery of the State’s costs and fees.

“I want to thank every worker who spoke up and expressed their concerns to my office. I also want to thank DLI for collaborating with my Office to ensure it can protect workers,” Attorney General Ellison concluded. “If you're a worker and feel your rights are being violated, don't be afraid to contact my office or DLI. We may be able to help you and you will help protect the rights of workers subject to the same practices.”

Tips for workers

Workers who are concerned that they are the victims of wage theft are encouraged to file a report with the Attorney General’s Office, or to call (651) 296-3353 (Metro area) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).All workers can find information about their rights as a worker by visiting the Office’s online publications on wage theft, women’s economic security, and independent contractor misclassification.

 

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