Two Charlotte bankers have sued their employers claiming they were required to work overtime hours without pay to meet quotas, joining a rising tide of litigation over wages in the aftermath of the recession.
In one case, a former loan processor said Wells Fargo imposed a mandatory quota on her and her coworkers, forcing them to regularly work overtime without pay to meet the demand.
In the other, a former SunTrust Bank financial services representative claims she had to stay late at work to meet mandatory sales quotas and spend one night a week calling customers to hawk more services.
The two cases illustrate the wave of wage-and-hour lawsuits filed in the past five years as large companies have downsized. Financial services companies have been one of the primary targets. A record 7,064 wage-and-hour suits were filed in 12 months ending March 31, according to the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. The number spiked in 2007, and then rose steadily between 2008 and this year.
Settlements have ramped up, as well. About 107 wage-and-hour cases were settled last year, up from 20 in 2007, according to NERA Economic Consulting. Banks and insurers made up more than 20 percent of the settlements over the past five years, second only to the retail industry.
Theres definitely a trend, said Catherine K. Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, a New York nonprofit that promotes workers rights.
Law firms representing both employers and workers point to the large number of displaced workers following the financial crisis as a cause for the increase. At the same time, the nature of work in the U.S. has shifted toward jobs that can fit into a gray area as far as who is eligible for overtime and who is exempt.
Generally, salaried employees who have wide latitude over how they conduct their jobs are exempt. Hourly employees and those who primarily take direction from supervisors are not.
Theyre squeezing the workers who are left, and theyre increasingly building into their business plans that this whole swath of jobs is exempt, even though it may not be, Ruckelshaus said.
Employer defense law firms also point to workers attorneys becoming more aggressive after seeing successful settlements and court rulings in past years.
Two cases involving banks
Neither of the Charlotte suits, filed in federal court, has received a formal response from the banks.
Wells Fargo is committed to fully compensating its team members in accordance with all federal and state requirements, spokeswoman Christine Shaw said in a statement. We only just have been served with the North Carolina complaint, however, and its too early to comment on the specifics.
SunTrust representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
The Wells Fargo suit was filed Nov. 6 by Yolanda Frazier, who worked at the Three Wells Fargo tower uptown primarily processing foreclosure files. She claims she had a certain number of files she was required to process per day, and had to stay after her shift if the quota wasnt met.
That meant Frazier and her co-workers regularly had to work more than 40 hours per week, and beyond what the bank would pay in overtime, the suit states. In some cases, she claims supervisors revised timesheets to eliminate some of those hours.
Frazier is seeking to be part of a statewide and nationwide legal action representing all current or former Wells Fargo employees with similar job duties.
At SunTrust, Terri Burleson worked at a Matthews branch where she claims employees were disciplined if they did not meet mandatory sales quotas. Meeting those quotas regularly meant staying late or working through lunch, the suit says. The suit also states that branch workers had to take part in a call night at least once per week without pay where they telephoned people offering SunTrust products and services.
The bank is headquartered in Atlanta.
Burleson, too, is attempting to be part of a larger legal action.
These two suits are part of a rising number of actions taken against large companies in the past five years.
A California suit filed earlier this year claims Wells Fargo limited overtime for loan underwriters to an unrealistic level in comparison to the amount of work it demanded. In a legal response filed with the court, Wells Fargo denied the allegations and said the bank has not authorized or permitted any wrongdoing. The case is pending.
Another, filed last year in Texas, said Wells Fargo loan processors were forced to work overtime without pay. The bank again denied the claims and said Wells had no knowledge of unpaid overtime if any occurred.
In 2007, Wells Fargo settled a wage-and-hour lawsuit brought by business systems employees for $12.8 million. They had claimed they were wrongly classified as exempt from overtime pay while working more than 40 hours per week.