Chicago Newsman Sued for Back Wages

Wage, hour and overtime lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that Bill Kurtis, Chicago veteran broadcaster and owner of Tallgrass Beef Company, was recently hit with a lawsuit by the former CEO of Tallgrass. The man sued both Kurtis and his beef company for alleged failure to pay back wages.

The plaintiff, James Whitney, was CEO and CFO of Tallgrass from December 2008 to 2011, when he was let go due to downsizing. Whitney claims he is owed a significant amount in back wages and reimbursable expenses for his time at the company.

A marketing firm, The Bloom Agency, is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, though it does not name Kurtis specifically in its complaint. Bloom created and implemented a marketing plan for Tallgrass and designed its website, for which it was never paid. Together, Whitney and Bloom claim they are owed over $75,000 for their work.

A similar lawsuit was filed against Tallgrass in 2010, which ended in a fine of $403,000 for Tallgrass. According to that complaint, the company failed to make payments to dozens of its livestock suppliers, which sourced grass-fed, grass-finished beef to upscale restaurants in Chicago such as Frontera Grill and Harry Caray’s. Kurtis ultimately reached an agreement with the suppliers and the USDA, resulting in the civil penalty.

The $400,000 penalty seemed to be unfair to many, especially once documents were released from the hearing. Official papers revealed that, as of 2009, Tallgrass actually owed $1.6 million to about four dozen livestock sellers. Ultimately, the company worked out a payment plan and agreed to be monitored by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), resulting in the significant penalty decrease.

This latest suit is a bit different in that it stems from violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act (IWPCA), rather than GIPSA laws. Specifically, Whitney was not paid-in-full for his final compensation after being let go. Under the IWPCA, employees are legally entitled to the monetary equivalent of all earned vacation and holiday pay, wages, earned bonuses, and any other compensation owed after leaving a company.

Employees who are not timely paid their final compensation are able to, as Whitney did, recover monetary damages through civil action. Workers throughout the country are becoming more and more aware of this fact and consequently filing suit against their employers who withheld pay.

For example, California’s Department of Industrial Relations recently announced that it was fining an Alameda restaurant nearly half a million dollars for wage theft violations. Employees of Toomie’s Thai Cuisine notified the state department, reporting that they routinely worked at least ten-and-a-half hours every day, up to seven days a week. They claimed Toomie’s did not pay them the required minimum wages for over time; instead, servers were paid $45 per day and kitchen staff between $75 and $120.

The citation includes nearly $375,000 in back wages to Toomie’s employees and over $108,000 in civil penalties. Unfortunately, restaurant owners are some of the worst offenders of wage and hour law violations, particularly in California. The California Labor Commissioner stated that her department is not focusing on one particular industry, but is instead simply renewing its commitment to proactive, aggressive, and meaningful investigations to get workers’ the wages they deserve.

Most investigations begin when an employee files a worker complaint, which often leads to a facility visit, interviews with other employees, comprehensive audits, and payroll record reviews. Investigations range from small, privately-owned companies like Toomie’s to larger public corporations like Time Warner Cable, which was recently slapped with a lawsuit filed on behalf of about 400 employees.

Overtime violations lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are currently reviewing cases of wage theft for potential clients throughout the United States. If you believe you or a loved one was exploited or unfairly paid for time worked, contact one of our skilled wage attorneys for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.