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Court strikes down DOL penalty assessed against Missouri company

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Greater Missouri Medical Pro-Care Providers, Inc. (GMM) is a company that provides physical and occupational therapists to work in hospitals, nursing homes, and a host of other comparable facilities. GMM hired physical and occupational therapists from the Philippines through the H-1B program for temporary workers. GMM agreed to pay a just amount and provide suitable working conditions for their employees. A GMM H-1B therapist from the Philippines, Alena Gay Arat, alleged that GMM had violated several H-1B requirements. One of those incidents that Arat had alleged was that GMM had attempted to make her pay a fee for ending her job early.

The Department of Labor (DOL) took Arat’s complaint as an “aggrieved party” complaint. Erin Simon, an investigator with the DOL, found that there was reasonable cause to review the complaints against GMM. The DOL claimed that GMM had violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) on several fronts. The first violation that the DOL alleged against GMM was that GMM failed to pay required wages to employees that GMM had placed in nonproductive "benching" status. They further claimed that GMM made improper deductions from employee wages for lawyer and H-1B petition fees. Finally, the DOL said that the company “required or attempted to require” improper penalty payments for early termination from certain employees.

GMM challenged the DOL determination to an administrative law judge, arguing that, “[t]he applicable statute and regulation limit an aggrieved-party complaint to the specific issues of the Complaint and to the aggrieved party’s LCA.” The ALJ rejected this theory after finding that there was nothing in the INA to support GMM’s claim. The ALJ ordered GMM to pay $338,042.19 of back wages to forty employees for benching violations; $8,160.00 to seventeen employees for illegal fee deductions; and $8,284.23 to four employees for illegally withholding paychecks. A federal district court later affirmed these penalties.

DOL

On appeal, the court found that the Secretary was not authorized to investigate in the manner that they did. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Secretary of Labor cannot investigate beyond the original complaint without reasonable evidence, which was not presented. The court determines that because all of the awards given by the ARB were based on the Secretary’s unauthorized investigations, the awards cannot stand. The appeals court reversed the judgement and “remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

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