Updated 6:45 P.M. Jan. 25, 2019.
Former student employees under Brown Dining Services, Maxwell Kozlov ’20 and Benjamin Bosis ’19, who is also a Herald staff columnist, filed a complaint in a collective civil action lawsuit against the University Thursday, seeking compensation for “violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act … and the Rhode Island Payment of Wages Act,” according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that the University “violated the RIPWA” and “FLSA by failing to pay wages and overtime wages,” which would entitle the plaintiffs to relief. For example, in the week of Sept. 10, 2017, the complaint claims that Kozlov worked 78.75 uncompensated hours of which 70.25 were overtime. The plaintiffs seek “an award of unpaid wages and overtime wages,” as well as awards of compensatory damages, punitive damages and liquidated damages among others, the complaint states.
“Given our continued work with the students, we were disappointed to learn of the Jan. 24 complaint filed in U.S. District Court. We are reviewing that complaint in full and will respond as appropriate through the legal process,” wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of years of student efforts to improve working conditions and wages for BuDS workers, followed by a more public push for change in the last few months, The Herald previously reported.
After BuDS student managers proposed improved work hours, compensation and employment structure to the University in the summer of 2018, the University “began a good-faith effort to address their concerns, implemented a number of immediate changes and launched a process to explore longer-term solutions,” Clark wrote. These changes included raising wages for all BuDS workers as well as eliminating mandatory “on-call shifts,” The Herald previously reported.
The plaintiffs previously sent a formal complaint to the University on Oct. 15, stating that “Brown Dining Services fails to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, Rhode Island General Law 28-12-3.2, and Brown University policy 40.030,” all of which describe standards for labor conditions and compensation. Kozlov, Bosis and other students then demanded compensation for “hours spent working on-call” in an email to Director of Dining Services Peter Rossi and other Human Resources administrators on Oct. 29. Because the students were not satisfied with the University’s response, Kozlov and Bosis decided to seek compensation through litigation, Kozlov told The Herald.
While Kozlov and Bosis are the two lead and only named plaintiffs in the suit, more than 60 students are eligible to take part, Kozlov told The Herald. Kozlov and Bosis emailed these students on Thursday to inform students of the lawsuit, as well as invite those eligible individuals to opt-in to the collective action, according to the email.
The lawsuit stipulated that “when called into or otherwise required to report to the work site for work while ‘on call,’ Managers and Supervisors were not compensated for a minimum shift pay of three hours, contrary to state laws and Defendant’s own policy.” Additionally, “during numerous workweeks, the hours of physical work performed by Managers and Supervisors in combination with their uncompensated ‘on call’ time exceeded 40 hours, however, they were never paid overtime compensation,” the complaint continued.
Working for BuDS interfered “with the way we were able to conduct our personal affairs,” Kozlov said to The Herald. In their complaint, the plaintiffs described how their jobs affected their sleep patterns, class attendance and ability to live off-campus.
The plaintiffs are represented by Richard Sinapi of Sinapi Law Associates on a “contingency fee basis,” the plaintiffs wrote in their email to potential students eligible for the collective action. While there are “no upfront costs to his service,” if the University “settles or the case goes to trial, the lawyer will receive 40 percent of the damages,” the email stated.
Updated 6:45 P.M. Jan. 25, 2019.