In federal district court, a lawsuit currently pending claims that an auto repair shop owner retaliated against a former employee when he paid his final wages – $915 – by dumping 91,500 pennies coated with a sticky substance resembling motor oil or transmission fluid at the end of his driveway. The stunt transformed what began as a private dispute into a news story covered by national media outlets and a potentially costly federal lawsuit.
Andreas Flaten, the former manager of A OK Walker Luxury Autoworks, said in a New York Times report that the pile of pennies, along with a pay stub “marked with an expletive,” were left on his driveway to punish him for quitting and repeatedly demanding his final paycheck, which he had not received. According to Flaten, his workplace issues arose from his need to pick up his child from daycare at a specific time each day, even though he accepted the job based on an agreement that he would leave at 5 p.m. Tensions surrounding the arrangement grew when the daycare started to close earlier during the pandemic.
Flaten gave the employer notice of his plan to leave late last year, but he left the job earlier than initially planned due to continuing problems. When his final paycheck still hadn’t arrived several months later, Flaten contacted the owner and eventually filed a claim with the U.S. Department of Labor. After learning that Flaten had complained to the DOL, a mountain of foul-smelling pennies appeared on March 12, completely blocking his driveway.
Flaten then allegedly spent several hours transporting about 500 pounds of pennies –covered in power-steering fluid or motor oil – up his steep driveway with a wheelbarrow. Afterwards, he spent time cleaning his stained driveway and scrubbing each penny individually so he could drop them into a coin-sorting machine. According to Flaten, it took about two hours to get $5 worth of pennies cleaned.
His girlfriend posted a video of the pennies to Instagram that went viral within a week, riling the public and garnering the attention of the owner, who made this comment on the shop’s website:
What started out as a gotcha to a subpar ex-employee sure got a lot of press. Let us just say maybe he stole? Maybe he killed a dog? Maybe he killed a cat? Maybe he was lazy? Maybe he was a butcher? … know that no one would go to the trouble we did to make a point with out [sic]being motivated.
Georgia state law does not offer guidance regarding how to pay an employee’s remaining pay after they leave employment. However, under the Fair Labor Standards, employers must provide the final paycheck on the next scheduled payday, regardless of whether an employee resigned or was fired. However, according to Wage and Hour Division District Director Steven Salazar, “Workers are entitled to receive information about their rights in the workplace and obtain the wages they earned without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
After further investigation by the DOL revealed that the shop owner never paid his employees federally mandated overtime, the government brought a lawsuit on Flaten’s behalf, suing the shop owner for $36,971 for unpaid wages, damages and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Flaten is not the first ex-employee to fight for his final paycheck. Last month, an Edmond, Oklahoma woman pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering charges and now faces over a million dollars in fines and 40 years in prison for Cares Act fraud. Shortly after receiving over $100,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans, the owner closed her business, Oliver & Olivia Custom Apparel and Gifts, in late 2020. Still, her employees never received their final paychecks. She claims they will be paid in full – eventually.