SIDNEY – Lawyers for the Sidney woman who brought a civil lawsuit against Airstream in Jackson Center, and its corporate owner, Thor Industries, have filed further action to correct inter-company communications. They claim the motion is in response to Airstream’s written communications to employees to unduly influence employees who could be included in a class action lawsuit.
On March 1, Sandra Funk, 43, Sidney, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Dayton. She is asking for compensation for an alleged miscalculation of overtime pay; to allow all employees affected by the same pay method to join the class action; class action as a violation of the Ohio Prompt Pay Act (OPPA); violating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) with interference of her rights; and, for a violation of the Fair Market Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for retaliation actions towards her.
She is seeking back pay for alleged uncompensated overtime work, and relief for what she considers a violation of her employment rights. The woman is also seeking that the lawsuit become a class action case to include all employees whom she contends were wronged for their overtime compensation.
Her attorney, Matthew J.P. Coffman of Columbus, contended Funk has a solid claim for the overtime pay and alleged improprieties in management steps regarding her eventual termination. Now, Coffman has filed an emergency motion for a protective order claiming that written correspondence from Airstream’s Senior Vice President of Operations Mark Wahl.
Court papers claim Airstream, through Wahl, “had improper, deceptive, misleading, coercive, propagandized communications preemptively with the putative class member before they would receive notice through the Court-supervised notice process.”
Coffman contends the communication failed to inform the punitive class about the pending lawsuit, their possible status as claimants, a clear explanation of overtime and production pay periods in question, and other potential employee rights issues.
In a correspondence dated March 8, one week after the original court filing, Wahl wrote to employees that their attendance bonus may be higher than usual because Airstream had made an “inadvertent payroll error” when calculating overtime pay. Wahl continued that their calculations were going through Airstream’s internal accounting and administrative tracking to make sure everyone received their deserved pay.
Wahl also notes the company’s payroll system has been upgraded to avoid future errors. He noted, “We (Airstream) discovered this error while working through all the details and processes of the new payroll system.”
On April 12, Wahl again wrote to employees restating the clerical error, how is was uncovered, and assuring employees no such future problems would occur. He indicated the 2017 and 2018 employee pay recalculations had been completed and checks were to be mailed to employees. Pay records for 2016 will still being processed.
More clarification being requested
Coffman said the employee letters only mention an accounting glitch, not the pending litigation. He said employees may be confused that they may be eligible to participate in class action for further benefit, and, may be in fear of retaliation. He is also claiming the company has verbally provided false information about Funk.
Coffman is requesting the court take corrective action including Airstream issuing employee correspondences. He is asking detailed information about the lawsuit be distributed, include an apology for not informing them of the pending lawsuit, and including contact information to join the class action.
Airstream officials do not comment publicly on pending litigation, according to company officials.
According to court records, Funk was employed as a fulltime employee with the company from June 2015 until June 28, 2017. It’s during this time she claims the company miscalculated the pay rate for overtime hours worked.
Coffman claims this was a violation of the FLSA, the OPPA, and the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act.
The suit claims Airstream did not pay the overtime rate of 1 ½ times the regular hourly rate for a 40-hour work week. It accuses the company of compensating employees with additional forms of remuneration such as nondiscretionary bonuses in addition to their employees’ hourly rates of pay.
The OPPA violation would presumably allow employees to gain their past pay at 6 percent or $200, whichever is higher, for each miscalculated payday. Coffman feels hundreds of employees were impacted.
Medical leave act violation claimed
In March 2017, Funk developed a medical condition that required ongoing, and at times, immediate, medical care. She was absent from work from March 12 to April 10, 2017, claiming she qualified for the terms of the FMLA. Airstream officials approved Funk for the leave, according to court records.
In May, Funk claims she became ill requiring emergency medical treatment and missed work May 16-18 due to the illness. When she returned to work on May 19 presenting her doctor’s excuses from work, human resource official allegedly disciplined her for the same type absences she was previously approved for.
On June 12, Funk sought medical attention discovering her condition had returned. Her condition caused her to miss work through June 18. She claims when she requested paperwork for her FMLA, she received no response. Instead, management issued “occurrence points” against her for the absences. Her symptoms returned causing her to miss work again from June 17-23.
On June 26, her condition resulted in a visit to the emergency room for treatment and was hospitalized. On June 28, Funk claims after working in the factory for some two hours she was called into a meeting and threatened with termination.
On July 12, she received a letter stating that she was terminated for numerous failures of attendance. It was noted in the letter that Funk did not promptly request a medical leave. She claims it retaliation against her for using the FMLA.
Also, Funk claims she was not notified of her eligibility for medical coverage, if she began paying the premiums, when she was terminated. Employees may participate in the COBRA program (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) and continue their health coverage, once they are terminated.
Funk states she was not notified of the COBRA option. Coffman claims his client is eligible to receive the $110 per day penalty from the company for the non-disclosure, all medical expenses during that time, attorney fees and court-related costs.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.