Thursday, June 10, 2010
7 News Investigations: Driven to Sue
One man worked for at least six South Florida limo companies. That man has sued six South Florida limo companies. The limo companies say he is a serial suer. He says he's trying to get them to follow the law. Here is Patrick Fraser with a story we call Driven to Sue.
WSVN -- From Town Cars to top of the line Hummers, Starline Limos can take care of you. You need great vehicles to attract customers and good limo drivers to keep them coming back.
Raul Rodriguez: "Good drivers can make the difference between a good company and a bad company."
And right now, many South Florida limo companies are talking about one driver who worked for them and after he got fired or quit came back with a lawsuit.
Raul Rodriguez: "With me he sued for over time. For over time wages based on the fact that he's trying to claim or his attorney is trying to present him as an employee."
Another company sued by the driver East Coast Limo.
Mehdi Pourpaki: "Upset my stomach all the time. I had to take the Pepto Bismal to get rid of this problem."
The driver sued Pourpaki for not paying overtime on the same day. The driver sued another limo company Corporate Connection Lines. In 2006 he sued South Florida Transportation and Ocean Drive Limousine. Then finished up by suing Brickel Key Tours and Starline Limos in 2009.
Raul Rodriguez: "He said 'listen, let's negotiate let's talk about this.'"
Six limo companies sued by the same guy in federal court for not paying overtime.
Saad Mahmoud: "There is no such a thing as overtime."
The limo companies say their drivers are not employees who draw an hourly or weekly salary, but rather independent contractors who work on commission.
Raul Rodriguez: "If he works he gets paid. If he doesn't work he doesn't get paid. He gets a percentage of the actual work that is being done. He is not an employee."
East Coast tried to fight the lawsuit and gave up.
Mehdi Pourpaki: "Lawsuit is not is not fair but you can't fight with them. I give him $2,000 and it cost me $7,000 for the lawyer."
The limo company owners are convinced the law is on their side, but rather than pay attorneys to fight a court battle, four of them concluded it was just cheaper to pay the driver to drop the lawsuit and go away and the driver driving limo companies up the wall is this man, Josue Charlot.
J.H. Zidell: "They should be paying overtime."
Charlot wouldn't talk to us and asked Jay Zidell who represented him in the six cases we found to speak for him.
Patrick: "Is he taking advantage of the law?"
J.H. Zidell: "I don't think he is. He simply looking for work. He wishes they would pay him for overtime, but when they don't then he's collecting what he's entitled to collect."
Zidell says the limo companies are wrong about the law and are violating it. Limo company owners see the lawsuits in a different way.
Raul Rodriguez: "This is extortion it's not borderline extortion."
J.H. Zidell: "Clearly, the picture that Raul wants to paint is here's an employee who's abusing the system. Josue's response is stop violating the law when it comes to paying workers. You have to pay the workers what the law entitles them to receive."
Patrick Fraser: "And why don't the limo companies warn each other about a driver who goes from one to the next? Leaving lawsuits and cash settlements in his wake as one owner told me its a tough business we don't chit chat, but one limo company did defeat Charlot by requiring him like all their drivers to sign a document agreeing they are independent contractors who work on commission."
Saad Mahmoud: "We spoke with his lawyer and showed him our agreement with him and the few days that he work he dropped the case."
Raul says he never knew he was being sued, never got notified to show up in court and when he didn't, the judge ruled in favor of Chalot. Raul found out Charlot had won when they seized his bank account.
Raul Rodriguez: "So far have, they've garnished from my accounts in excess of $10,000 pluse $10,000 to my attorneys."
Several limo companies paying thousands to one man who they will remember as the guy who was Driven to Sue.