Three former employees of local nonprofit Community Animal Resource & Education Society (CARES) of Burien & Des Moines have filed a lawsuit for unpaid wages against the organization and its executive director and founder, Debra George.
CARES has served for over 10 years as the local animal control agency for Burien, and for Des Moines starting in 2022.
Alexander Hughes, Stephanie Gehring, and Monique Shiels claim that they were not paid for all the hours they worked as animal control officers and shelter employees while at CARES.
The complaint was filed in August in the Superior Court of Washington for King County by the Washington Wage Claim Project, a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to workers with unpaid wage claims.
- According to the complaint, Hughes worked for CARES from October 2013 until July 2023, responding to animal-related complaints and patrolling neighborhoods and parks in the cities of Burien and Des Moines.
- Gehring and Shiels worked as shelter employees, providing care for animals and assisting with adoptions.
- The plaintiffs are seeking money damages, including liquid or exemplary (double) damages, as well as pre-judgment and post-judgment interest at legal rates, costs, and attorneys’ fees pursuant to RCW 49.46.090, RCW 49.52.070, and RCW 49.48.030.
- They are also requesting other relief that the court deems just and equitable.
The lawsuit also provides additional details about the charges, including:
- Defendants’ animal control and shelter operations were chronically understaffed, and the operation and maintenance of both required Plaintiffs to regularly work more than 40 hours per week, even though Defendant George indicated they would never be paid for overtime hours.
- Plaintiff Hughes was paid a bi-monthly salary that did not fluctuate according to the hours he worked each week.
- Plaintiffs Gehring and Shiels were hourly paid employees.
- Plaintiffs clocked into an electronic timekeeping system at the beginning of each shift and clocked out at the end of each shift.
- Plaintiffs Gehring and Shiels regularly performed work before and/or after their regular schedule and days off that was not recorded (off-the-clock work) and for which they were not paid any wages. Such work included but was not limited to tasks related to animal foster care and adoption issues.
- All three Plaintiffs regularly worked more than 40 hours per week, but they were not paid overtime premium wages.
- Defendants misclassified Plaintiff Hughes as an exempt, salaried employee not subject to the requirement to pay overtime wages. Plaintiff Hughes’ position did not meet the requirements for exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Washington law.
CARES Lawyer Responds
“We are aware of the allegations made in the lawsuit,” Burien-based lawyer W. Tracy Codd, who is representing CARES, told The B-Town Blog. “Our investigation shows the allegations are without merit. We have provided voluminous documentation indicating Burien CARES, a nonprofit organization, has complied with all applicable State and Federal laws. We expect the matter to be resolved shortly. Other than the above, given that litigation is pending, we have no further comment at this time.”
The Washington Wage Claim Project is representing the plaintiffs in this case. Attorneys David N. Mark and Beau C. Haynes filed the complaint on Aug. 10, 2023.
Lawsuit documents (courtesy Erica C. Barnett/Publicola):