Thirteen Fuyao Glass America workers and former workers have sought to join a potential class-action lawsuit against the company over wages and scheduling.
That’s a tiny sliver of a factory workforce that has about 1,500 production workers.
But Robert DeRose, a Columbus attorney representing the workers, said in a recent interview that he doesn’t necessarily need a large number of Fuyao employees to join the lawsuit in order to achieve class-action status.
“I have to show that they (Fuyao workers and former workers) are similarly situated,” DeRose said. “We’ve shown that 13 people (so far) agree that they are all treated similarly.”
At stake is not just back pay for what plaintiffs hope will be a sizable number of workers at one of the area’s largest manufacturers. At stake could be that employer’s broad pay and scheduling practices.
“Changing their pay practices to comply with the federal and Ohio wage statutes is one of our goals,” DeRose said.
DeRose with other attorneys represent Julia Staggs, a former Fuyao employee who first sued the auto glass manufacturer in June 2017.
Staggs worked at Fuyao in the tempered assembly section of the plant from September 2016 to December 2016, when she was terminated, according to a filing from Fuyao’s attorneys.
She charged that she worked overtime at Fuyao without being paid a time-and-a-half wages for that work. She contends also that she and others were not completely relieved of duties for meal breaks and other times.
She claims that over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, Fuyao “promised” to pay Staggs and about 100 other employees time-and-one-half wages for all hours worked that weekend, as an enticement to work extra that weekend.
“Defendant (Fuyao) has failed to pay plaintiff and approximately 100 other similarly situated employees time and one half of their regular rates of pay for all hours they worked,” the suit charges. Instead, employees received $50 gift cards, the suit claims.
Staggs and her attorneys also argue that Fuyao automatically deducts from workers’ pay for lunch breaks — whether or not employees actually take the breaks. They claim that Fuyao deducts for a half-hour break from employee pay, although some employees work through lunch or they don’t take the entire 30 minutes as an uninterrupted break from work.
Fuyao representatives have denied the allegations in the suit and are fighting the action.
In filings, Fuyao acknowledges using a “30-minute auto-deduct program for meal breaks.” But the company says that when employees work through their breaks, they are paid accordingly.
Scott Young, one of the attorneys representing Fuyao, declined to comment at length on the lawsuit, but said: “Fuyao Glass America (FGA) denies any allegations by the plaintiffs that they were not properly paid by FGA.”
Young also said Fuyao takes the position that class certification for the plaintiffs in this action is not appropriate.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys — which include three lawyers from Columbus and one from Cincinnati — hope that U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rose will offer “conditional certification” as a class-action lawsuit.
DeRose sees a possible multi-stage process playing out: Working to achieve conditional certification as a class-action lawsuit, notifying other Fuyao workers of the lawsuit and their rights, then litigation.
If class-action status is granted, then DeRose and his fellow attorneys on the plaintiffs’ side hope to have permission to contact other Fuyao workers about the lawsuit.
“I need permission from a judge to talk with them specifically about this case,” DeRose said.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys have asked Rose for permission to write workers letters, send them texts or emails. “It’s soliciting clients with the permission of the courts,” DeRose said.
But while DeRose and his colleagues can’t yet solicit workers directly, workers who are aware of the suit are slowly starting to join, DeRose said.
Clients who join the lawsuit can seek damages going as far back as two years, if they worked for Fuyao that long, DeRose said.
Fuyao Global founder and Chairman Cho Tak Wong bought the Fuyao plant in Moraine — once home to a General Motors SUV assembly operation — in May 2014. Work refurbishing the plant and slowly beginning glass manufacturing slowly began in the months afterward.