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Prevailing Wage Case Headed to New York Court of Appeals

Beranbaum Menken’s fight on behalf of SimplexGrinnell employees is headed to New York State’s highest court.  We had filed a class action lawsuit in the federal court in Brooklyn, New York on behalf of Simplex’s employees to recover prevailing wages for fire alarm and sprinkler work on public projects throughout the State of New York.  In 2011, the judge certified the case as a class action, but dismissed the employee’s claims to be paid prevailing wages for testing and inspection work, finding that an opinion letter from the New York State Department of Labor made testing and inspection work ineligible for prevailing wages prior to January 1, 2010.  The class action settled for the non-testing and inspection work, and we appealed the court’s dismissal of the testing and inspection claims.

Earlier this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision.  The Second Circuit found that the case brought up unsettled questions of state law, and so it certified two questions to the New York Court of Appeals – one, what deference should be given to the Department of Labor’s opinion letter, and two, can a company’s subjective understanding of its obligation to pay prevailing wages override the company’s actual legal obligation to pay prevailing wages.

We have always argued that the Department of Labor cannot limit the rights workers have to enforce their prevailing wage obligations through an opinion letter, or through their decision not to enforce the law.  Each worker has an independent right to enforce their right to get paid.  Similarly, the language of a contract cannot excuse a company’s obligation to pay prevailing wages.  We are confident that, after many years of fighting, SimplexGrinnell’s employees are getting closer to receiving the prevailing wages they are entitled to.

The case is likely to be argued before the Court of Appeals near the end of 2014.