A federal lawsuit filed in Greenbelt alleges that a Maryland company that paints luxury condominiums in the District defrauded Latino immigrant workers who routinely worked 60 hours or more a week by failing to pay them overtime.
The company, SCCP Painting Contractors Inc., also allegedly did not pay the four plaintiffs named in the suit for their final two weeks of work. One of the workers, Ivan Aplicano, 34, of Gaithersburg said in an interview yesterday that he worked 113 hours during his last two weeks with the company. Its refusal to pay him after he was fired in April meant he was unable to send money to his native Honduras to help pay for the burial of his mother, Aplicano said.
The company's owner, John Sulmonte, said yesterday that he was unaware of the lawsuit or of the allegations that people who worked for him were not paid for their labor.
"I don't know anything about it," Sulmonte said, adding that the workers and their attorneys were welcome to call him. The company is headquartered in Frederick County.
The lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and lawyers with the downtown firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
They plan to ask a federal judge to certify the suit as a class-action lawsuit, said Laura E. Varela, a lawyer with the lawyers' committee.
Class-action status would allow attorneys for the plaintiffs to seek payment records from the company for every employee for the past three years, Varela said. SCCP has employed more than 500 workers during that time, she said.
"They bring in groups of workers for large jobs and, when they're done, they fire them," Varela said. Virtually all of the workers are Latino immigrants, she said, and many are day laborers.
Varela and Anne E. Langford, a lawyer with the firm that collaborated in filing the lawsuit, declined to say whether Aplicano or any of the other three named plaintiffs are in the country without proper documentation.
Varela said the workers' immigration status is irrelevant to the lawsuit: "They're entitled to their wages for their labor."
In the Washington area, Latino day laborers have looked to the courts several times in recent years to recover wages they said they were cheated out of by dishonest employers.
In April 2005, a subcontractor pleaded guilty in Prince George's County Circuit Court to seven misdemeanor counts of failure to pay wages to day laborers who helped build a luxury condominium building in Bowie. In August of that year, the subcontractor, Francisco Sandoval, was ordered by a Prince George's judge to pay $21,000 in restitution to the workers he had cheated.
In May 2005, a Prince William County court ordered a Virginia Beach subcontractor to pay Leoncio Vite $1,138 for 110 hours of unpaid work involving fiber optic cable installation.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last week, Manuel Carrera, a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant who lives in Northern Virginia, said in an interview that he worked for SCCP for three months, until he quit last February. Carrera said he and other Latino workers toiled from 7 a.m. until about 6 p.m. painting luxury condominiums on Church Street near Dupont Circle, with only a 20-minute lunch break.
Aplicano said he and other workers at times were required to continue working into the early morning, painting another luxury condominium in Georgetown.
"They treated us very badly," Carrera said.