The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on Dec. 30, is the latest escalation since Flaten submitted his two-week notice at the auto shop.
Flaten called the Wage and Hour division at the Labor Department in January 2021 to report that Walker did not pay him his final check of $915, according to the complaint. Flaten’s check had been prepared but never mailed.
The next day, Walker told the agency that he would not pay Flaten the amount owed, according to the Labor Department court document.
Within two hours of learning that Flaten complained to the Labor Department, according to the complaint, he decided to give the payment in the form of pennies and said, “How can you make this guy realize what a disgusting example of a human being he is … [Y]ou know what? I’ve got plenty of pennies; I’ll use them.”
On March 12, an unfamiliar man rang Flaten’s doorbell to alert him about his money, only for Flaten to discover the 500 pounds of pennies at the end of his driveway along with a pay stub and an envelope with an expletive scrawled on it.
Flaten and his girlfriend, Olivia Oxley, spent hours hauling the pennies up the driveway. The wheels of the wheelbarrow holding them had deflated under the weight when coin-cashing company Coinstar picked up the haul April 1.
Flaten, 27, told The Washington Post on Saturday that he had tried to clean the pennies, a daunting task.
“I used white vinegar and Dawn dish soap,” he said. “After 50 cents’ worth of pennies, you have to get a whole new paper towel and start again.”
Flaten said Coinstar also spent significant time cleaning the greasy substance off the zinc-and-copper currency.
Walker owned up to dumping the pennies, nearly bragging about what he did on his company’s website, according to the complaint.
“What started out as a gotcha to a subpar ex-employee, sure got a lot of press,” Walker posted on his company’s website, according to the Labor Department court document. “Know that no one would go to the trouble we did to make a point with out [sic] being motivated.”
Flaten said that Walker was generally good to him as an employee, because he was one of the top performers, but that Walker had a vengeful side. One former employee told TV station CBS46 last year that Walker had ripped up final paychecks in front of employees.
Allegations of dysfunction dogged A OK Walker Autoworks — which boasts on its website the work it did on the films “Trouble With the Curve” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” — shortly after Flaten’s pennies payment received media attention.
Until Friday, the website had a post about the penny payment that said it had asked the Labor Department whether the business was allowed to pay Flaten “in cash of any denomination,” and that the agency did not give specific guidance, CBS reported. The shop also denied putting oil on the pennies, the site reported.
The federal government’s complaint against Walker also accuses him of denying overtime pay to staffers and neglecting to keep proper pay and work records. The government is asking the court to recover unpaid wages and to pay damages to employees.
Les Alderman — of the Alderman, Devorsetz & Hora law firm, which is not involved in the case — said Walker’s quick response to the Labor Department implies that the wheelbarrow of pennies was a retaliatory measure.
Walker did not wait until the dish was cold before he served Flaten revenge, Alderman said.
“It’s rare to have a case where an employers does something this stupid openly,” Alderman said.
Flaten said he has moved on and does not plan to take legal action of his own.
“I’m over it, but I’m definitely happy to see that justice is being served,” he said.