Enforcement of new Louisville minimum wage depends on employee c - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Enforcement of new Louisville minimum wage depends on employee complaints

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A minimum wage rally in Louisville A minimum wage rally in Louisville
Carolyn Miller-Cooper, Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission Carolyn Miller-Cooper, Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Starting today, the vast majority of employers in Jefferson County are to pay at least $7.75 an hour under Louisville Metro's minimum wage ordinance.

But how will the new standard be enforced?

No one with Metro government will randomly show up at businesses to look at their books and ensure they are paying the minimum wage, said Chris Poynter, spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer.

Instead, Poynter said enforcement will be “purely complaint-driven” – meaning it’s up to employees or others to alert Metro government to employers that may be violating the ordinance.

The Human Relations Commission -- a unit of Metro government that investigates discrimination in areas like employment, housing, and public accommodations – is the agency charged with receiving and investigating minimum wage complaints, Poynter said.

The commission handles a little more than 200 complaints a year with a staff of 13, including three compliance officers, according to its 2013-2014 annual report. No staff members have been added to handle minimum wage complaints, Poynter said.

“There may be some hiccups in the beginning as people may not be aware of this or just beginning to implement (the minimum wage), but we suspect that the vast, vast majority – if not all – will largely comply,” Poynter said. “Obviously, if we get into it and that’s not the case, we’ll have to figure out how to respond.”

Carolyn Miller-Cooper, the Human Relations Commission’s executive director, declined to speak directly with a reporter, referring questions to the Jefferson County Attorney’s office.

Employers can be fined up to $100 per employee, per day for failing to pay the minimum wage, according to the ordinance.

Employees are also free to bring private lawsuits against employers for violating the standard, the ordinance says.

Right to sue employers under new wage standard

Employees also have a right to sue employers for violating the minimum wage under the same state law that governs other employment issues like overtime pay, the ordinance says.

But a key question is whether that new “private right of action” holds up in court, said Shelly Henry, a Louisville attorney who specializes in employment law.

If it does, employees would not only have standing to file a lawsuit, but attorneys who take on those cases would be able to recoup their fees and costs from the offending business.

Without that incentive, it would probably not be cost-effective to bring a lawsuit for only a few hundred dollars of damages, Henry said.

“If you have somebody who was underpaid by 50 cents per hour... that doesn’t add up to a lot of money, perhaps not enough to justify a lawsuit,” she said.

The retail and restaurant trade groups challenging the ordinance argue that only the state General Assembly, not the Louisville Metro Council, can give employees a new right to sue, and the case is now at the Kentucky Court of Appeals.


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