Nearly a year after Ruth Dixon and seven others took a vacuum distributor to court, the case is opening up to potentially hundreds of other people who might have been swindled out of wages.
Dixon (pictured) and her co-plaintiffs claim that SZ Enterprises, an Orange-based distributor of Kirby vacuum cleaners, promised them $500 a week for selling vacuums but didn’t pay them a dime. With the help of New Haven legal aid lawyer James Bhandary-Alexander, the group filed suit against SZ and the Kirby Company.
One week ago, federal Judge Stefan Underhill ruled that the case should be opened up to other plaintiffs with complaints similar to Dixon’s. The decision opens the door for a class-action lawsuit, one that could be joined initially by hundreds of New Haveners, Bhandary-Alexander said.
It also opens the door for an even larger suit, a potentially nation-wide class-action claim.
Sometime this week, notices will be sent out to the last known addresses of over 1,800 people who’ve worked at SZ as vacuum salespeople or as telemarketers, Bhandary-Alexander said. The notices will alert them to the possibility of joining the lawsuit.
Bhandary-Alexander predicted it will be difficult to track down all former employees, most of whom are from New Haven. The records show that many of the low-wage workers were living in transitional housing, he said. Those who choose to opt-in to the lawsuit will become legal aid clients, unless they choose to hire their own counsel. Assisting legal aid with the case is New York law firm Outten and Golden.
The plaintiffs seek back pay equivalent to the hours they put in multiplied by the federal minimum wage, plus attorney’s fees.
Bhandary-Alexander has recently started a walk-in labor rights law clinic, for workers who think their bosses might be taking advantage of them.