A Cambria Heights woman, who worked at a Long Island hotel, is now suing the company that runs it claiming that she was not paid overtime over the course of several years. She complained multiple times, but to no avail, and didn’t pursue the issue for fear that she might lose her job.
Mavis Kemper, 43, a native of the country of Jamaica, was a housekeeper at the Holiday Inn in Westbury from June 2008 until January 2012. She would begin at 6:30 a.m. and continue to work until 3:30 p.m. cleaning rooms and common areas, for $9 to $11 per hour.
Often she would work 45 to 48 hours, six days a week, but was not paid for the time that extended past 40 hours, until 2011. And she claims about 100 other employees at the hotel also weren’t compensated, violating both the federal and state labor law.
“She complained and she thinks that’s what led to her being fired,” Jeffrey Brown, one of her attorneys said Monday. “She was told that she was lucky she had a job and if she didn’t like it to go back to Jamaica.”
Kemper filed a class action suit against Westbury Operating Corp. and Norman Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Holiday Inn on Feb. 23 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip.
Shapiro did not return calls seeking comment by press time, and a spokeswoman for the Holiday Inn said the hotels are independently owned and franchised and she could not provide any information.
The litigation alleges that the defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and state law, which requires businesses to pay time and a half for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours over seven consecutive days. Under state and federal law, the penalty for failure to pay wages equates to double the amount of damages, according to Brown.
“They made me feel so bad, and I was treated so bad,” Kemper said. “I just kept going because of my responsibilities back home. I pushed myself to go.”
Kemper would send part of her earnings back to Jamaica to help support her family and 14-year-old son and could not afford to be unemployed. And although she said she was a model worker, the hotel eventually fired her anyway.
“They did not give me an exact reason,” Kemper said. “They said it was because I didn’t like the new manager in housekeeping. I’ve never been suspended, never been written-up, never been given a warning.”
The suit also alleges the hotel didn’t provide its employees with accurate paystubs documenting their rate of pay, the amount of deductions and other information required by law. Workers are entitled to $100 for every paycheck they received that did not have a stub under the state’s Wage Theft Prevention Act.
Kemper said Shapiro met with the hotel employees in 2011, to apologize for not compensating them properly and said he would do so from then on. “He told us he knew he should have been paying us all along, but if he had to pay everyone, he would go broke,” she recalled.
Kemper’s attorneys claim that similar situations are becoming commonplace in the business world and hope that the lawsuit will set a precedent to help others from suffering a similar fate.
The attorneys also asserted that it’s sad how employees are forced to work long hours, in a tough economy, to try and support their families only to find themselves being victimized.
“I told them what they were doing was wrong,” Kemper said. “But they said, take it, or leave it. I needed the job, so I took it.”