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Drywall workers receive long-overdue wages in case settlement

August 31, 2011: At the end of August 2011, the PJC’s Workplace Justice Project reached a settlement with defendant Wilhelm Commercial Builders in Quiroz v. Wilhelm Commercial Builders, Inc. We filed this case in July 2010 with attorney Beth Pepper on behalf of ten drywall workers who were not paid all of their wages at several worksites in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. The complaint named Wilhelm Commercial Builders (the general contractor) and three subcontractors as Defendants.  

The main issue in the case was whether Wilhelm Commercial Builders was a joint employer of the Plaintiffs. Wilhelm claimed that he subcontracted out the work that Plaintiffs did, and so he had no responsibility to ensure that they were paid correctly. This is an increasingly problematic practice many industries: the general contractors try to escape their legal obligations to pay workers correctly by contracting out their labor needs and turning a blind eye to illegal pay practices at their worksites. They often do so, however, while maintaining direction and control of the work. In this case, we alleged that the general contractor was liable jointly with the subcontractors for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Maryland’s Wage and Hour and Wage Payment and Collection Laws, and for breach of Plaintiffs’ employment contracts. The subcontractors defaulted, but we litigated against Wilhelm through discovery.
The case required significant participation from the Plaintiffs – including responding to interrogatories and requests for production, as well as missing work to attend depositions. For two of our clients who had moved back to Bolivia during the litigation, this meant walking several miles – several times – to the closest fax machine to send back signed declarations. At the close of discovery, we started settlement discussions with Wilhelm, and the Plaintiffs agreed to settle the case for a total of $15,000. The Court approved the settlement.
Attorney Andrea Vaughn met four of the workers for pizza and hand-delivered their settlement checks. They were, of course, excited to get the long-overdue money for their work, but they were also very animated about the fact that the justice system actually worked. They repeatedly said that they never thought they would see the money they were owed.  One man, in particular, was determined to encourage other workers to stand up for their rights as he did.

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