Class Claims Wendy's Cheats on Wages

     LAS VEGAS (CN) - Wendy's restaurants pay less than minimum wage and abuse a state law by providing substandard health insurance benefits to try to excuse the illegal pay scale, four workers claim in a class action.
     Lead plaintiff Latonya Tyus claims Wendy's of Las Vegas lied to them about their health insurance benefits to justify paying them $7.50 to $7.65 per hour instead of the state minimum wage of $8.25 for workers in their classification.
     Many class members are parents raising young children.
     Wendy's of Las Vegas owns 31 franchise and nonfranchise fast-food restaurants in Nevada's Clark County, according to the complaint.
     State voters in 2006 amended the Nevada Constitution to establish a minimum wage of $8.25 per hour for employers who do not provide qualifying health insurance benefits. The minimum wage is $7.25 per hour for those who do.
     The plaintiffs claims that Wendy's of Las Vegas falsely claims the health-insurance benefits underwritten by health insurer Aetna complies with the state law defining acceptable health insurance benefits to qualify for the lower state minimum wage. But they say the amount they have to spend on health insurance premiums exceeds what state law allows.
     Plaintiff David Hunsicker says his manager "offered him the company health insurance plan through Aetna Inc. but discouraged him from accepting the benefits because they were 'expensive' and the manager 'wouldn't recommend it.'"
     Hunsicker earns $7.55 per hour.
     Plaintiff Latonya Tyus is a mother of two dependent children and said she turned down the health insurance benefits due to their high cost. Wendy's pays her $7.55 per hour.
     The workers say their health insurance premiums are much higher than the state's qualifying threshold and do not provide coverage for deductible health care costs. The Nevada Constitution allows employers to qualify for the reduced minimum wage only when the cost of premiums for health insurance benefits equals no more than 10 percent of workers' annual gross taxable income. The benefits also must pay for health care costs that employees can deduct on their federal income tax returns.
     The workers seek class certification, reimbursement of unpaid wages, including recalculating overtime pay, punitive damages and court costs.
     They are represented by Don Springmeyer with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin.