Perez v. Lantern Light
DirecTV was sued by the U.S. Department of Labor for failing to pay overtime wages to its TV installers, in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). DirecTV had tried to avoid paying overtime wages to its workers by “subcontracting” its installation services to another company, which has since gone bankrupt. We represented the Washington Wage Project as an intervenor in the case, and moved to unseal documents that showed the details of DirecTV’s subcontracting arrangements.
The documents reveal how DirecTV had subcontracted all of its installation services to another company, Lantern Light Corp., also known as Advanced Information Systems (AIS), in an attempt to avoid liability for underpaying their workers. The AIS installers were paid biweekly for completed work orders as “piecework,” which resulted in them being paid far less than the minimum wage they would be entitled to under FLSA. And, even though the AIS installers were scheduled for 10-hour shifts and six-day work weeks, they were never paid any overtime, also a violation of federal law. The U.S. Department of Labor asked for a legal ruling on this issue, and the federal judge in Perez found that DirecTV was a “joint employer” of the installers with AIS and thus could be held liable for violating the federal overtime law. In the wake of that decision, DirecTV settled the case and DirecTV agreed to start playing by the rules.
In response to our motion to unseal, the court emphasized that “there is a strong presumption of public access to [court] files.” The court held that judicial records may not be sealed absent a demonstration of “compelling reasons” for secrecy. It went on to reject all DirecTV’s arguments as to why the documents should remain sealed, faulting the company for its failure “to state a particularized harm” that would result from disclosure. Instead, DirecTV simply asserted, without any real proof, that unsealing the details of its subcontracting arrangements would put it at a competitive disadvantage. This type of conclusory showing, the court ruled, is insufficient to overcome the public’s presumptive right of access.
The unsealing of the records in this case will make it easier for other victims to hold DirecTV, and other companies in similar industries, accountable. And, of course, it allows the press and members of the public to learn the full extent of DirecTV’s wrongdoing.