It sounded more like an urban myth than a true story. An owner of an auto repair shop in Peachtree City, Georgia, left a pile of 91,500 oil-soaked pennies on the driveway of a former employee who quit. Miles Walker claimed that he initially cut a $915 paycheck, but it was not mailed. Former employee Andreas Flaten then complained to the Department of Labor about not receiving his money. According to the lawsuit filed December 30, 2021, the DOL subsequently contacted Walker about the pay – his response was to say he would not pay it. He then changed his mind.
“How can you make this guy realize what a disgusting example of a human being he is,” Mr. Walker said, according to the lawsuit. “I’ve got plenty of pennies; I’ll use them.”
On March 12, 2021, Walker left the pile of pennies at the end of Flaten’s driveway. On top was a copy of the unsent paycheck with an expletive written on it. Flaten spent seven hours cleaning up the mess, reportedly blowing out the tires of his wheelbarrow in the process of moving the 500 pounds of pennies up the inclined driveway into the garage.
Social media brings national attention
Flaten’s girlfriend took a video of the oily pile and posted it on Instagram the following day. It led to widespread news coverage, which overwhelmingly painted the owner negatively and elicited sympathy from thousands who claimed they also had to deal with abusive managers. Walker doubled down the following day with a note on the shop’s website:
“What started out as a gotcha to a subpar ex-employee, sure got a lot of press,” the message said. “Let us just say that maybe he stole? Maybe he killed a dog? Maybe he killed a cat? Maybe he was lazy? Maybe he was a butcher?”
Boss makes matters worse
This message turned what started as a dispute over payment for services rendered into defamation and retaliation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. We should note that worker interaction with the DOL is protected by law.
The DOL lawsuit also alleges that Walker failed to pay overtime rates and did not keep adequate records of employee hours and pay rates. The suit seeks $36,971 in back wages and damages for Flaten and at least eight other employees.
A surprise happy ending for Flaten
Flaten said he had not held out much hope that Walker would be penalized for his actions and was pleasantly surprised by the lawsuit. He also got a service to collect and clean the pennies, converting them into paper currency.
While entertaining to read about, state and federal laws protect employees from mistreatment and ensure that labor laws are duly enforced. Not every instance is so click-bait-worthy. Nonetheless, workers can reach out to the DOL if employers violate their rights. This story also acts as a cautionary tale of what happens when employers think they can act with impunity when violating their employees’ rights.