Published: September 23, 2015
By Dani Meyer
Law360, New York (September 23, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT) — The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its call center operator were hit with a proposed class action Tuesday in New York state court for allegedly exploiting primarily black and Hispanic women on welfare at its Access-A-Ride Call Center by paying them below the prevailing industry rates. More than 95 percent of the call center agents at the Access-A-Ride Call Center run by Global Contact Services Inc. are black or Hispanic and are paid only around $9 to $11 per hour, the women alleged, well below the New York call center industry standard of $14 to $20 per hour.
“Defendant MTA, which could operate the Access-A-Ride Call Center as part of its operations, has been made aware of the employment practices of GCS and has chosen to turn a blind eye, even while paying GCS the sums set out under its contract with GCS, a contract which reflects a higher hourly rate,” the plaintiffs said.
According to the complaint, GCS hires most of the women at its Queens-based call center through the Welfare to Work program, which helps those on welfare return to the workforce.
“In other words, GCS makes it a point to hire black and Hispanic women desperate for work, who have been on the margins of the workforce for an extended period of time,” the plaintiffs said.
Agents are paid $9 per hour during their first 90 days, the plaintiffs said, noting that in most cases this amount is then increased to $11 per hour. However, the plaintiffs allege that a majority of the employees who reach this stage are terminated so that GCS can hire new Welfare to Work employees in their place.
The plaintiffs also accused GCS of operating a crowded, inadequately equipped workplace with an insufficient number of desks and phones, adding that the company’s system has created hostility and arguments amongst employees.
The plaintiffs said the MTA has been made aware of GCS’s employment practices but refuses to do anything even though it continues to pay GCS the amount set out in their contract, which reflects a higher hourly rate.
“By failing to act, MTA is aiding and abetting those employment practices,” the plaintiffs said.
The plaintiffs estimate that at least 500 individuals comprise the proposed class, arguing that a class action is necessary because the MTA and GCS would have an “unconscionable advantage” over the plaintiffs through their superior financial and legal resources.
“Requiring each individual member of the class to pursue an individual remedy would also discourage the assertion of lawful claims by members of the class who would be disinclined to pursue an action against defendants because of an appreciable and justifiable fear of retaliation,” the plaintiffs said.
The suit asserts violations of the New York City Administrative Code and the New York City Human Rights Law, among others. The plaintiffs demand that the MTA and GCS correct their unlawful employment practices and pay full back pay and punitive damages, as well as $250,000 in compensatory damages to each plaintiff for emotional distress and humiliation.
Arthur Schwartz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Law360 Wednesday that he’s surprised by the MTA’s payment practices since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
“It’s surprising in that light that the MTA is tolerating the payment of less than $9 per hour to people who are basically carrying out a government function,” Schwartz said.
A representative for GCS declined to comment Wednesday, while representatives for the MTA didn’t immediately respond late Wednesday to requests for comment.
The plaintiffs are represented by Arthur Schwartz and Tracey L. Kiernan of Advocates for Justice.
Counsel information for the defendants wasn’t available Wednesday.
The case is Esther Motta et al. v. Global Contact Services Inc. et al., case number 159479/2015, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.
— Editing by Ben Guilfoy.