Company faces second lawsuit over wages

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Dec. 12, 2012 at 6:12 a.m.
Updated Dec. 13, 2012 at 6:13 a.m.

An oil field services company is embroiled in its second federal lawsuit in as many years.

Ten former employees of Gate Guard Services filed a suit in Corpus Christi federal court in June.

"My clients allege that they worked substantial amounts of overtime for which they were not paid," the employees' attorney, Michael Galo, said Wednesday about service technicians who worked in South and North Texas.

A deadline that a judge set for other parties to join the lawsuit was Dec. 10, so Galo does not anticipate adding anyone else to the collective action lawsuit.

Galo said his office is still taking depositions, and there's currently no estimate as to the amount of damages they're seeking.

"I expect we'll go to trial sometime in 2013," Galo said.

Gate Guard Services' attorney Daniel Pipitone denied the employees' claims.

"Gate Guard paid these gentlemen everything they're entitled to and in addition to that has provided them with a lot of benefits that most employers don't even think about providing," Pipitone said of cellphones and cars handed out for personal use. He said service technicians are company employees.

This case comes two years after federal Judge John Rainey allowed Gate Guard Services to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Labor, a governmental entity that is typically immune from lawsuits.

In that case, filed in Victoria federal court in Nov. 19, 2010, Gate Guard Services asked the judge to issue a declaratory statement about whether it should comply with the U.S. Department of Labor's demands.

The U.S. Department of Labor found Gate Guard Services to be in violation of the Fair Labor and Standards Act and said it owed more than $6.1 million in back pay to the gate attendants since July 2008.

The department told the company to begin classifying their gate attendants, which log vehicles that enter and depart an oil field during drilling and production operations, as employees - not contractors. It said it must pay them minimum wage, or $7.25 per hour, for all 24 hours they're assigned to work.

In court documents, Gate Guard said that's unfair because the gate attendants are able to sleep "five to eight hours" and "have at least three periods of uninterrupted meal times, which last 30 minutes each or longer," during the day.

The gate attendants are paid $100-$175 per day. Pipitone said the company continues to classify gate attendants as independent contractors.

"And that's because we're right," he said.

Pipitone also said Gate Guard's business hasn't been damaged by the litigation either.

"The group of people who wish to work at Gate Guard has not diminished in any way," he said.

For the case against the U.S. Department of Labor, both parties continue to file motions for a summary judgment. A summary judgment means that if the plaintiff and defendant can agree on the facts of the case, a judge could compare their briefs with the law and render a ruling without a jury.

It's unknown now when Rainey will issue a summary judgment.

U.S. Department of Labor spokeswoman Elizabeth Todd had no comment about the original case other than to confirm that litigation is ongoing.



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