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DOL: Massachusetts Employer Allegedly Threatened to Retaliate Against Workers Who Cooperated With Wage and Hour Investigation

On August, 12th, 2021, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) announced that the agency has obtained an injunction against a Massachusetts man named Ronan A. De Souza, the sole owner and director of a Holbrook based company called PS Tree Service Inc. Mr. De Souza allegedly threatened unlawful retaliation against an employee engaged in protected practices under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In this article, our Massachusetts wage and hour lawyers discuss the allegations raised against the Norfolk County employer. 

Allegations: Business Owner Harassed, Threatened Employee and Employee’s Family  

The DOL took regulatory action against a Massachusetts employer after allegations that the company’s sole owner was making threats against an employee who was cooperating with a wage and hour investigation. According to the complaint from the DOL, Ronan A. De Souza—the sole owner and officer of Holbrook, MA-based PS Tree Service Inc.—was being investigated for suspected wage and hour violations. Upon learning of the investigation, Mr. De Souza allegedly made threats against the worker he felt was responsible for reporting the matters. The DOL’s complaint filed in a Massachusetts federal court raised the following two specific allegations: 

  1. Mr. De Souza reached out to a teenage employee via text message, telling that employee that he believed the employee’s parent was responsible for the wage and hour complaint; and
  2. Mr. De Souza made direct threats to both the teenage employee and the parent, stating that they would “pay” if they did not stop cooperating with the regulators. 

The DOL has now obtained a preliminary injunction against Ronan A. De Souza and his Massachusetts company PS Tree Service Inc. The court order explicitly bars Mr. De Souza and his firm from making any threats or taking any other retaliatory action against current or former employees that cooperate with the wage and hour investigation.  

The FLSA Protects Workers Against Retaliation—Recovery of Punitive Damages is Possible

The Massachusetts employer is under investigation for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the FLSA, workers have a right to file wage and hour complaints and cooperate with investigators. They cannot face any adverse employment action from their employer based on the fact that they exercised their legally protected rights under the FLSA. 

In this case, the DOL is seeking punitive damages on behalf of the employee. While punitive damages are not awarded in most wage and hour claims, the FLSA authorizes courts to award punitive compensation to workers when employers knowingly and intentionally retaliate against them in order to thwart a wage and hour investigation. 

Contact Our Massachusetts Wage and Hour Attorneys for Immediate Help 

At Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC, our Massachusetts wage and hour claims lawyers have skills and legal knowledge that you can trust. Retaliation is unacceptable. If your boss threatens to punish you for complaining about a wage and hour violation, we will help. Call us now or connect with us online to arrange a no obligation case evaluation. With law offices in Springfield and Northampton, we advocate for worker rights throughout Western Massachusetts.