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Business owner paid ex-worker with 91,000 pennies. That's retaliation, feds claim in lawsuit.

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After a former employee of A OK Walker Autoworks filed a complaint with state labor regulators in 2021 accusing the owner of failing to issue his final paycheck of $915, he got an unwelcome surprise: a mountain of 91,000 pennies, covered in oil, dumped in his driveway. 

But the worker, Andreas Flaten, may be having the last laugh. The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against the Peachtree, Georgia-based auto repair shop and owner Miles Walker after deciding that the stunt amounted to retaliation. 

According to the government's complaint, Walker decided to pay Flaten in pennies within hours of learning that he had contacted regulators over his missing paycheck.

"How can you make this guy realize what a disgusting example of a human being he is...," Walker stated, the Labor Department alleged in the suit. "[Y]ou know what? I've got plenty of pennies; I'l use them."

A worker engaging with the Labor Department is protected under federal law, according to the agency. "Workers are entitled to receive information about their rights in the workplace and obtain the wages they earned without fear of harassment or intimidation," an official with the agency's wage and hour division in Atlanta said in a statement Wednesday. 

The Labor Department also determined that Walker had illegally deprived other workers at the shop of overtime pay, as well as failing to keep proper pay and work records. It is asking a U.S. district court in Georgia to bar the defendants from any future breaches of the Fair Labor Standards Act, including retaliation and overtime violations.

A statement posted on A OK Walker Autoworks' website, labeled "pennies," said the company asked the Labor Department if it was allowed to pay Flaten "in cash of any denomination" and that the agency did not offer specific guidance (The company removed the statement from its site on Friday.) The repair shop also denied putting oil on the coins. 

"There were exactly 100,003 pennies, 750 dimes, 2 quarters, a nickel, and his pay stub in the pile," the post states. "That is a lot more than what we were legally obligated to give him. Why so much more? We figured that he would have had enough intelligence to just have the pennies counted and exchanged."

An employee of the auto shop declined to comment and said she did not know how to contact Walker.

After the Labor Department filed its complaint, Flaten told Business Insider he would encourage other workers who feel they are wrongly denied their wages to file a complaint.

"They definitely should not be scared to reach out," he told the news outlet. "Speak up. Don't be quiet about it. Because if you're quiet about it, it's just going to continue to happen to you and everybody else."

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