US Department of Labor investigation finds Arizona landscaping company denied full wages, retaliated against workers
PHOENIX – Following a U.S. Department of Labor investigation that found a Phoenix-area landscaping company and its owner used illegal pay practices, lied to investigators and intimidated workers, a consent judgment has been entered in federal court to recover back wages and damages for employees and hold the employer accountable.
On April 28, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ordered Artificial Grass Masters LLC of Peoria – operating as Artificial Grass Masters and Sun Screens for Less – and owner Joshua Apodoca to pay $92,500 in back wages and $92,500 in liquidated damages to 66 employees. The judgment also requires the landscaping company and Apodaca to pay $15,000 in penalties for the willful nature of their violations.
The action follows a February 2021 investigation by the Wage and Hour Division’s Phoenix District Office. The Regional Solicitor’s Office in San Francisco handled the matter on behalf of the Department.
“The Wage and Hour Division will not tolerate retaliatory action and intimidation against workers. Employees have a legal right to be paid their wages in full, to seek the wages they have earned and to assist investigators without fear of harm, threats or harassment,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Eric Murray in Phoenix. “Retaliation is a priority for the division, and we will use every tool available to enforce the law, prevent wage theft and address employer intimidation.”
Investigators determined the employer paid workers in cash and off-the-books, denied overtime pay, lied to investigators, and intimidated workers. In addition to the back wages and damages, the consent judgment specifically prohibits Artificial Grass Masters LLC and Apodaca from doing any of the following because of employee’s assertion of their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act:
Discharging or threatening discharge, laying off, not providing work.
Cutting employees’ work hours or wages.
Intimidating, including intimidating by brandishing firearms or other weapons.
Providing negative employment references or taking any steps to interfere with an employees’ application to work for another employer.
“Intimidating employees because they exercise their rights strikes at the heart of government enforcement efforts,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco. “The U.S. Department of Labor stands ready to protect employees from intimidation and retaliation, and it will hold employers accountable for attempting to silence their employees.”
Employers and workers can call the division confidentially with questions regardless of their immigration status. The department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages through the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).
Visit the agency’s website to learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.