Court Orders Sports Bar, Owner to Pay $359K for Retaliating Against Employees

February 9, 2024

A federal court has ordered a Milford, Connecticut, sports bar and its owner to pay employees a total of $359,485 in back pay, emotional distress damages, withheld compensation and punitive damages for violating labor and safety law anti-retaliation provisions.

The order is the first court decision involving retaliation claims asserted under both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which investigated and brought suit.

“Employers who subject their workers to unlawful conduct on multiple fronts, such as unsafe working conditions, unpaid wages and threats of retaliation, are violating multiple federal employment laws,” said the department’s regional lawyer, Maia Fisher, in Boston.

In February 2022, the department filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut against Milford Sports Bars LLC, doing business as Champions Grill and Bar, and Loren Drotos, who is also known as Mark Roberts, Mark Drotos and Mark Lawrence.

The suit alleged that in January 2022, the employers threatened employees who asked to be paid the compensation they had earned for doing extra work to prepare the bar to open and unlawfully terminated employees who participated in an inspection by the department’s OSHA.

The department also alleged that, after employees were fired within days of exercising their rights, the employers sought to further chill employees from engaging in protected activities and cooperating with federal investigators by sending a message to employees that they should not talk to the department.

In his defense, the bar owner Drotos, who resides in Canada, complained he was was not properly served. The owner denied the allegations of retaliation; said some were fired for legitimate business reasons and one resigned; and claimed the company offered to rehire several workers but the workers declined. The owner disputed the promises of extra work and extra pay. The owner maintained that the workers did not do the work they claimed on the floors and denied accusing them of trying to blackmail the owner or telling them to not talk with OSHA. The company also accused several employees of using a company credit cart to buy Home Depot gift cards for personal use.

The court accepted the labor department’s allegations as true and issued an order granting $6,770 in back pay, $2,715 in withheld wages, $125,000 in emotional distress damages and $225,000 in punitive damages to the affected employees. The order also prohibits the employers from future violations of the anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA and OSHA.

“Discouraging or preventing workers from participating in an OSHA inspection may mask or delay identification of hazards that could harm workers,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in Boston. “Employees have a right to participate in OSHA inspections and to file a whistleblower complaint if their employer retaliates against them for exercising their rights.”

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