In September, Minami Tamaki Partner Jack W. Lee and Senior Associate Bethany Caracuzzo finalized a $3.7 million settlement with the U.S. government in a wage and hour class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 2,000 plaintiffs in 17 states against the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The lawsuit alleged that the Census Bureau violated federal law by consciously refusing to pay overtime wages to temporary census employees who worked on the Year 2000 Census.
Census administrators “were targeting a very vulnerable population here – people who are students, retired, homemakers – hoping those groups of people who were temporary employees” wouldn’t raise a fuss, said Lee in a 2001 interview with AsianWeek. Census supervisors “were trying to cross their fingers and hope that no one would notice.”
Some Census supervisors demanded that employees accomplish tasks in “whatever” time it took, requiring or allowing staff to work more than 40 hours a week.
“These people who went out and did counting door-to-door, … they had guns pointed at them, had dogs chasing them (and) had their cars break down on desert roads, just to get their jobs done,” said plaintiff Kent Christofferson, a 20-year Navy veteran who signed on as a field operations supervisor with the Year 2000 Census and was the lead plaintiff.
Census administrators “were trying to save money, because the less they spent, the better they looked,” Christofferson said in an interview with AsianWeek. “The money was available. They could have used it at any time, but they chose not to. … When you have people pushing hours and everything, you don’t need to.”
With the Census 2010 counting completed earlier this year, Lee hopes that the lawsuit helped change the way the Census Bureau managed this year’s temporary workers.
“The goal of the lawsuit was not only to obtain the wages owed the plaintiffs from the 2000 Census, but to also ensure that future Census workers would not have to go through the same injustice,” said Lee.