Four New London thrift store employees file labor lawsuit

New London - Four employees of a New London thrift shop have filed suit against the Salvation Army alleging the nonprofit organization violated state labor law by not compensating employees who regularly worked extra hours to keep the store open.

Four women who worked, or still work, at The New London Family Store at 170 Bank St. claim the Salvation Army did not pay part-time workers beyond their 29-hour work week or compensate full-time workers any regular or overtime wages for anything worked beyond 40 hours.

The employees, including an assistant manager and former manager, claim they often worked in excess of their part-time or full-time work week because of staffing shortages but in some cases were told by their supervisors that any extra hours would be considered "volunteer work," according to the suit. They were also threatened that if they recorded more than their regularly scheduled work hours or overtime hours, they could be fired, according to the suit.

Three of the women still work at the store, according to New London attorney Morris Busca, who represents the women in a suit filed this week in New London Superior Court. Gail Riley of New London, Suzanne Foulkes of Waterford, Yvette Clark of New London and Amanda Murzyn of New London are the plaintiffs in the suit. The suit names Salvation Army Inc.'s divisional headquarters at 855 Asylum Ave. in Hartford.

Busca said the women repeatedly complained to their supervisors and human resources personnel that the store was understaffed and that they needed to work extra hours to keep the store operational. The work included waiting on customers, cleaning the store and bathrooms, removing trash, tagging items for sale and in some cases making nightly bank deposits of the day's proceeds.

"For the good of the store, for the community, (they) were acting as a team, helping each other out to ensure the store was operating," Busca said. "How could an organization that does so much good, that helps so many people in need ... be so disrespectful to the employees who deliver their services? They just wanted to be compensated for the time they worked."

The Salvation Army is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church which has divisions worldwide and provides an array of social services that range from providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children, according to their website.

Salvation Army Lt. Col. Hugh Steele, in charge of the organization's 36 eastern region rehabilitation centers, said he could not comment on any specifics of the suit because of the pending litigation.

Steele said, however, he was aware of the allegations and that the Salvation Army would want to "make it right" if an employee had a legitimate claim. He said the legitimacy of the allegations in the suit have "yet to be determined."

All proceeds from sales at the thrift store support the adult rehabilitation programs operated by the Salvation Army.

Busca filed essentially the same lawsuit early in July. The case was transferred to federal court because some of the claims were violations of federal labor laws. Busca said he voluntarily withdrew the lawsuit in favor of filing a new suit at the state level, this time with specific language in the suit that makes it clear there are no claims the Salvation Army violated federal law.

The women are seeking an unspecified amount greater than $15,000 for reimbursement of past wages, compensatory damages, attorney fees and unspecified damages.

Busca said he had met with attorneys for the Salvation Army prior to the filing of the suit in an attempt to reach a settlement but said the Salvation Army had been unresponsive.

g.smith@theday.com
Twitter: @SmittyDay

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