UPDATE: I’ve included some bottom-line information at the bottom of this article for you, along with the relevant contact information to find out more information if you need it.

I’ve spoken with a number of sources on the issue of Sutherland’s latest legal troubles, and there are quite a few moving parts to it. This blog has been looking into the issues for a little less than a week, but now for both the interests of informing the general public and more importantly, to inform other employees, current and former, of the state of affairs let me lay this out as simply as possible.

Many Sutherland employees will be familiar with the practice of logging onto phones and working sales assets before logging on to their time keeping system. Others will be familiar with working through lunches or other practices encouraged by Sutherland, especially on the sales team. Those of you who worked tech support positions probably spent a fair amount of time working after the ends of your shift to complete calls. In all of these cases, where Sutherland failed to make sure the employee was properly compensated, they violated the law.

The U.S. Department of Labor caught on to this some time ago, and began an investigation. Eventually, while comparing Sutherland’s payroll to it’s Kronos time system and the hours logged, they began to notice wide discrepancies for which they sued. This lawsuit did not go any farther than matching Kronos against Sutherland’s payroll, and does not include any estimation of time worked for which there is no record, nor does in include other offenses that many have claimed Sutherland to be guilty of. It also includes only time from July 16th 2002 through July 17th 2004 and only includes the Rochester offices.

Meanwhile, a group of employees was also fighting for compensation for similar abuses at Sutherland. Their suit, which has bloomed into a class-action suit, includes 1999 through 2007. It also charges that there were many other violations like overtime-differentiated commissions and other violations, and includes all Sutherland employees in the U.S., whereas the DOL case involves only Rochester.

OK, so that’s the background up to the point when I became aware of the situation. Then, like many of the Rochester Sutherland employees, on June 8th, I received a letter from Sutherland stating that they had reached an agreement on the “audit” performed by the DOL. The “audit” in question was actually the first of the two lawsuits pending against them. They are attempting settling this dispute directly with employees, and sending letters notifying them of the sum that Sutherland has agreed to pay.

Had Rebecca Klimek, the Human Resources Director from whom this letter originated, not messed up the language of the letter, we all would have received a letter stating that we would be getting x number of dollars plus additional penalties to the company of the exact same amount. What we got were letters stating that we were receiving x number of dollars *less* a penalty of the exact same amount, leading us to suspect that we were getting the rug pulled over our eyes and getting squat back.

But for this unfortunate gaff, most every one of us would have signed it and moved on without a second look. Instead, it’s caused a flurry of suspicion and fact-checking around the case that they probably didn’t want. So, everything’s on the up and up, and this is just a simple typo problem?

Not quite. Don’t think that there isn’t some legal trickery going on, here, because there is. Sutherland’s settlement of the more modest DOL lawsuit and their delivery of the letters was indeed quite conveniently before the plaintiff lawyers in the second, larger lawsuit got a chance to send out their own letters. They included the following language:

You should understand that your acceptance of the back wages, as stated above, means that you give up any rights you may have, within the period, July 16, 2001 through July 17, 2004, to bring legal action for such amount. As stated above, you are required to execute a Release in which you acknowledge that you have given up your rights to bring such action in return for the payment.

Is that the truth? Well, yes, as far as that goes. You obviously can’t take a settlement and then sue again. But isn’t this rather obvious? Yes it is, and this letter seems designed to suggest that you give up any right to sue for any other damages, even if it does so with convenient, plausibly deniable weasel words. That much is certainly not correct.

The DOL investigation never included as many years nor nearly as many employees as does the class-action. Even if you settled, you’d still be entitled to continue with the other lawsuit if you are eligible, as long as you didn’t double-dip the money from the first settlement on the second. In other words, if lawsuit A settled for $100 and lawsuit B settled for $101, you’d be OK to take the $100 from the first and the $1 from the second. And there may be a lot more than 1 dollar in that second suit for you.

So, while no laws have been violated in this instance, Sutherland seems to be guilty of a bit of deception for the sake of minimizing the damages. Just consider the flow of the letter. First their letter begins by dangling a couple hundred dollars in the faces those whom they admitted to having previously defrauded. Then they ask that you sign the waiver and quietly mail it off to the H.R. department of Sutherland, the very same department responsible for the fraud. Finally, they hit you with the legalese that suggests (deniably) that you can’t have anything to do with the class action lawsuit.

Nice and quiet, they’re sewing up the leak and trying to keep maybe hundreds of people (most of whom probably won’t read past the first paragraph) from collecting potentially hundreds of dollars of their own lost wages that they have every right to. There’s nothing criminal in the letter, and they can argue that they were informing people, but at the same time, an impression is given which is not entirely square with reality.

Here, then, for the benefit of those who’ve not gotten the letter, is it’s body entirely:

Dear Thomas J Belknap:

The United States Department of Labor conducted an audit of time and payroll records of Sutherland Global Services Inc., formerly known as Sutherland Group Ltd. (“Sutherland”), covering the period from July 16, 20m through July 17, 2004. As a result of that audit, it was determined by the Department that you are due back wages in the gross amount of $x.xx less applicable withholdings and liquidated damages in the amount of $x.xx.

In order to receive payment of the back wages and liquidated damages due to you as determined by the Department of Labor, you must execute and return the enclosed Release to Rebecca Klimek, Sutherland Global Services Inc., 1180 Jefferson Road, Rochester, New York 14623. The Release must be returned to Sutherland (Attention: Rebecca Klimek) no later than July 19, 2007. Upon receipt of the fully executed Release, Sutherland will issue and mail payment to the address listed in the Release.

You should understand that your acceptance of the back wages, as stated above, means that you give up any rights you may have, within the period, July 16, 2001 through July 17, 2004, to bring legal action for such amount. As stated above, you are required to execute a Release in which you acknowledge that you have given up your rights to bring such action in return for the payment.

Very truly yours,

Rebecca Klimek
Director of Human Resources

The Bottom Line

  1. There are two lawsuits, not just one: a suit by the Department of Labor and a class-action lawsuit on behalf of employees of Sutherland.
  2. The Department of Labor and Sutherland settled on a rather narrow definition of Sutherland’s offenses over a relatively narrow time frame.
  3. The class-action lawsuit includes many offenses not covered in the DOL case, and does so over a longer period of time.  That being between the years 1999 and 2007.
  4. Even if you agreed to settle the DOL lawsuit, there is no reason that you cannot also join in the class action lawsuit if you worked for Sutherland before July 16th, 2002 or after July 17th 2004.

It may also be possible that you could still join in the suit if you can claim that other forms of abuses not included in the original suit (such as non-differentiated commission) also apply to you. To be sure about this, you might want to get in touch with the lawyer in the class action suit.

Contact the Plaintiff:

Website: http://www.sutherlandovertimesuit.com/
Representing Attorney: Stanley Matusz, at 585-271-5460
Email Contact: info@sutherlandovertimesuit.com

Additional Resources:

U.S. Department of Labor, Buffalo office:
Niagara Center
130 South Elmwood Avenue
Room 536
Buffalo, NY 14202
Phone: (716) 842-2979
Fax: (716) 842-2980