DATE:  Sept. 28,  2001     NO: 01-81

CONTACT: Randy Carr PHONE: (907) 269-4914 

Department of Labor and Workforce Development

News Release

Complaints arise from failure to obtain work permits and to pay minimum wage

Mary J. Bruso of Fairbanks was charged with 17 misdemeanor counts for employing a minor without a work permit, failing to pay the minor minimum wages, failure to keep employee records required by law and hindering an investigation being conducted by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Bruso operates the Polar Bear Quilt Shop in Fairbanks.

The charges stem from a complaint investigated by the Wage and Hour Administration and were made by the Fairbanks District Attorney's office. In June of 2000, the labor department received a complaint alleging that Ms. Bruso was employing a minor and was not paying her the minimum wage. Although Ms. Bruso denied employing anyone, the department's investigation found that she had employed a 15-year old girl over a period of 12 months, paying her $5 per hour "under the table."

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to informally resolve the minimum wage violations administratively, the department filed the matter in Small Claims Court in April of 2001. Bruso removed the case to District Court under Formal Rules, which required the department to turn the matter over to the Attorney General's Office to prosecute the civil complaint.

After four months of investigation, Randy Olsen, the assistant attorney general handling the case for the department, succeeded in reaching a settlement of the civil complaint for $1,500. However, according to Olsen, the employer has threatened to file bankruptcy to avoid paying this child the money she has coming. Due to the large number and type of violations involved, Olsen referred the matter to the District Attorney's Office for review.

"The state has no authority to assess civil money penalties for this type of violation," said Randy Carr, chief of Labor Standards. "If an employer plays hardball and refuses to cooperate with the department to resolve its violations administratively, our only means of insuring they have an incentive to not continue their illegal practices is through the criminal justice system."

"The decision to file charges in this case is strictly up to the DA, assistant attorney general Olsen said, "but no employer should be able to sidestep their obligations and responsibilities to their workers, especially to a minor worker."

Each offense is punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $2,000 or imprisonment for not less than 10 days and not more than 90 days, or both for each offense. Each day a violation exists is a separate offense.

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