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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Haitian Immigrants Have Case Against D.C.

(CN) - Haitian immigrant workers at a public school bus terminal in Washington can pursue claims that they had to pay kickbacks for overtime, a federal judge ruled.

Mica Saint-Jean, Guerline Bourciquot and Marie Dorlus brought the class action against the District of Columbia in 2012, alleging they were barred from working overtime hours at a D.C. school bus terminal unless they paid illegal kickbacks to their former supervisor, Michelle Smith.

Saint-Jean and Dorlus say they each paid Smith $75 to $150 per pay period to obtain overtime assignments.

When they stopped paying Smith in September 2007, she refused to assign them overtime hours, selectively enforced Division of Transportation policies against them, and issued "repeated and unnecessary warnings," according to the complaint.

Smith even suspended Bourciquot without pay, the complaint states.

Smith was allegedly suspended for six weeks scheme in October 2006 after several Haitian employees told Transportation Administrator David Gilmore about her scheme.

The plaintiffs say they reported Smith's conduct to the mayor's office, the Offices of the Inspector and Attorney General, and the FBI in late 2007, and to the Division of Transportation's assistant manager in March 2008.

Later that year, two supervisors allegedly issued four written warnings and a written reprimand to Saint-Jean and Bourciquot for refusing a directive and padding the clock.

The plaintiffs say they told Gilmore that Smith discriminated against Haitians, accepted bribes in exchange for paying employees for hours not worked, and let her boyfriend use division buses for personal purposes.

Days later, the division's Deputy Terminal Manager Michael Roberts allegedly suspended Bourciquot and Dorlus without pay for five days. They were cited for failure to "report they would be late [to work] on July 18," and had a security guard escort them off the property later that day, according to the complaint.

Within weeks, the division notified the pair of their "proposed termination[s]" for insubordination to an immediate supervisor, effective Aug. 14, the complaint states.

As for Saint-Jean, the division allegedly placed her on a 10-day administrative leave for insubordination on Sept. 10, with notice that she would be fired two weeks later.

The complaint alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and local statutory and common law.

D.C. moved for judgment on the pleadings or for summary judgment, arguing that the division is not liable because it was under a receivership during the relevant time period.

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts denied the motion on Nov. 21.

"The district's conclusory assertion that a transportation administrator is the same as a receiver sheds no light on whether the district can be held liable for actions undertaken while Gilmore was the transportation administrator," Roberts wrote. "The district's analysis assumes that Gilmore was a receiver, and makes only cursory arguments about why Gilmore is a receiver."

The judge later added: "Even if Gilmore's position of transportation administrator was functionally the same as that of a receiver -- a proposition that the district has not proven -- the district fails to show that it nevertheless cannot be held liable for the actions undertaken during Gilmore's tenure. The district fails to cite a single case where the organization under the leadership of a functional equivalent of a receiver was held not liable."

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