A company making millions in shipping used vehicles to Latino countries is facing a lawsuit over its alleged violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). A former employee led the filing of the case citing the federal statute on paying overtime. According to Suendy Zavala, an employee at Port to Port International Corporation for more than three years, she was not a seaman while on that job. Neither were her fellow employees. But, the company called them seamen and exempted them from the FLSA-required rate for overtime pay.
The misclassification is being used by Port to Port International Corp. to evade paying the employees their overtime hours at a rate of 1.5 times their regular hourly rate, according to Zavala’s complaint.
Employees are non-exempt from FLSA, no seaman at all
Although Port to Port’s business involves freight forwarding, it does not own or operate any ocean vessels. It merely contracts other companies to transport their freight while employees such as Zavala busied themselves facilitating that. When the ocean vessels set sail, the company does not have employees aboard the vessels.
Zavala’s job is that of “lead specialist.” She did it from the company headquarters in New Castle, Delaware. She took calls from customers, processed shipment orders, and relayed these to shippers of the company.
Her counsel from JTB Law Group said her job and that of the other employees are “of a different character” from the job of the seaman described and exempted from time-and-a-half overtime pay by the FLSA.
Zavala’s regular work in more than three years at Port to Port International Corp. was typically more than 40 hours a week. Her shift lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on top of that, she occasionally continued working after her shift. She worked for Port to Port from January 2014 to April 2017.
Port to Port’s growth
Port to Port International Corp. began in 1998 shipping used cars to other countries. It rapidly gained customers. By now, aside from being regarded as one of the nation’s largest shippers of used cars, Port to Port International is a growing shipper also of new and used construction machinery, forestry equipment and containerized cargoes to Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Europe, Asia and other worldwide markets. It is a full-service non-vessel operating common carrier shipping company, international freight forwarder and terminal operator.
Estimates show it has an annual revenue of $12.8 million. It employs a full-time staff of 40 to 50, many of them are reportedly bilingual.
Anabel Panayotti started the company after she saw the need for a one-stop-shop in exporting used cars, mainly to Latino countries. Before that, she had worked for Dole and didn’t feel she was moving up. She hailed from Honduras. She moved up by establishing her own business, packing with used cars the ships departing the US after delivering fruits from Latino countries.
Now her employees are asking for their legally mandated rate of pay for hours they’d worked on overtime, plus damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.
Zavala’s lawyers from the JTB Law Group LLC and Gellert, Scali, Busenkell & Brown LLC said that under the FLSA, an employer must convert an employee’s wages to rate per hour to determine how much overtime pay he or she must receive in compliance with the statute. This applies “No matter how an employee is paid—whether by the hour, by the piece, on a commission, or on a salary.”
Zavala is the first member in a putative FLSA Collective of Port to Port’s employees misclassified as “seaman.” The collective could include up to 100 members who regularly worked more than 40 hours a week but were paid the same hourly rates for all the hours they’ve worked.
Zavala through her lawyers said her former employer knowingly violated the federal statute on paying overtime as it knew its classification of the employees as seamen was precisely only to evade paying them the federally prescribed rate of pay for overtime.
The case is filed in the District Court of Delaware as Case 1:17-cv-01411-UNA. #
“There is no room for misinterpretation in overtime pay and it should be paid even when employees are not aware of the Labor Laws. If an employee gets fired or penalized by his/her employer for bringing up the issue of unpaid pay, then a claim can be filed to get their position reinstated.”