News | Morningside Heights

Contracting company workers sue Columbia

Employees of a Harlem-based contracting firm have filed a class action lawsuit against their company and Columbia, claiming that they were denied proper overtime pay while working on University-owned facilities.

According to a complaint filed last month, workers at Mamais Contracting say their employer shaved overtime wages for work on the Manhattanville construction site. They argue that the University failed in its role as a joint employer to ensure that Mamais employees were properly compensated under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The workers say they had a verbal contract with their employer, which stipulated that they would be paid at a certain rate for all hours worked. The plaintiffs argue that their wages were rounded down to the nearest hour and that they were paid regular wages, not overtime, for every hour over the 40 in the standard workweek.

They also allege that Mamais failed to cover disability payments or the employer’s share of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax, the national payroll tax.

The plaintiffs—employees who worked on unspecified Columbia facilities in the last three years—allege that the University is also liable under the suit because Mamais “worked exclusively” on Columbia projects in the six years leading up to the complaint.

“Mamais Contracting is not a viable entity separate and apart from Columbia University,” the lawsuit states.

In support of this allegation, the lawsuit lists a number of actions by the University that confirm its role as a joint employer, including issuing keycards to nearly 100 Mamais workers, threatening to fire contractors who did not meet certain work requirements, and remaining fully aware that the firm’s employees were suffering from shaved wages.

“It is also common knowledge that there is a ‘pay to play’ environment at Columbia in which Columbia turns a blind eye to wage violations so long as Columbia University employees receive ‘compensation,’” the document reads.

A University spokesperson declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation publicly. Mamais did not respond to requests for comment.

The suit’s plaintiffs are requesting an injunction to remedy the alleged labor violations that would include restitution for lost wages and compensation for legal fees. They also claim the right to contact other Mamais employees who have worked on Columbia property in the last three years in order to pursue the class action suit.

chris.meyer@columbiaspectator.com | @CMeyer201

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