NEW HAVEN (CN) – The Kirby “high end” vacuum cleaner company, through its Connecticut distributor, promised desperate workers sales jobs at $500 to $800 a week, then paid them as little as 40 cents an hour for 70-hour weeks, eight workers say in a federal class action.
“Defendants led plaintiffs to believe that promised paychecks, bonuses, and prizes were around the corner. But as defendants knew all along, nothing was around the corner,” says the opt-in class action, filed by New Haven Legal Assistance.
There are four defendants: Scott Zabka, “a distributor of Kirby-brand vacuum cleaners,” dba co-defendant S.Z. Enterprises, of Orange, Conn., and Scott Fetzer Companies dba The Kirby Company, a Delaware corporation based in Ohio.
“Defendant Kirby only sells its vacuums and related products through a ‘Company Marketing System,’ a personnel system, and a business system implemented at their authorized regional distributors,” the complaint states. “Defendant Kirby conditionally appointed Defendants Zabka and SZE as the sole distributor of its products in most or all of Connecticut in 1999. Defendants Kirby conditioned that appointment on Defendants Zabka’s and SZE’s acceptance of the former’s control and domination of the business and personnel policies.”
In a nutshell, the complaint states: “Defendants recruited plaintiffs and other job applicants to work for them by fraudulently misrepresenting their business and the terms and conditions of employment. Among other things, defendants promised $500-$800 in pay per week, characterized the work as a management-training program and characterized their business as an appliance outlet or home maintenance company. Not only did defendants fail to pay $500 per week, they paid only a fraction of the amount owed by law. In reliance on defendants’ continued false misrepresentations, Plaintiffs worked without proper compensation and offered up their own family and friends to defendants as sales prospects. … Plaintiffs and other employees, hoping to earn a living during hard times, held on until they were either broke or figured the business for a scam. Defendants themselves enjoyed and profited from plaintiffs’ free labor.”
One named plaintiff was paid $85 for three weeks of work at 70 hours a week. One received $200 for three weeks of work. A third made $25 for four weeks of full-time work, according to the complaint.
Just as horrifying, perhaps, for anyone who has done such work: “Defendants required employees to report to the Orange office every morning, six days a week, to participate in two-hour meetings,” according to the complaint.
“Kirby and S.Z. Enterprises utilize recruiting, hiring, and employment policies that are well-designed to take advantage of the so-called jobless recovery,” plaintiffs’ attorney James Bhandary-Alexander said in a statement.
“Low-wage workers are facing desperate times, and Kirby monopolizes on that by lying to them, stringing them along, and ultimately paying them nothing for their work. By the time these workers figure out they have been scammed, they have worked hundreds of hours for free. Many of them wind up penniless.”
New Haven County had a 9.3 percent unemployment rate in April, higher than the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than a quarter of New Haven residents live in poverty.
The plaintiffs seek damages for unpaid wages and overtime, plus liquidated damages to be determined at trial.