Bus drivers claim First Student not paying for all hours worked

By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — Against the backdrop of a threatened labor strike, a class-action lawsuit filed against First Student by 40 bus drivers and driver assistants claiming the company failed to pay them for all hours worked, including overtime, and doesn't keep accurate time records, is advancing.

The suit filed in August in U.S. District Court in Concord, claims First Student violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying its employees owed straight time as well as time and a half for overtime.
The complaint also charges that the company estimates its payroll based on time stamps provided through equipment that produces electronic vehicle inspections reports mandated by federal Department of Transportation regulations.

When First Student is hired to bus students, the company estimates the time it will take to drive each route under the terms of the contract. These estimated route times are imputed into a computer program named FOCUS. The estimated route times are compiled for each driver to create a "standard hours" estimate of the projected time the employee will work for a given week. At the start of each work day, the FOCUS system generates an agenda of bus route tasks that must be performed and a
driver is assigned to each route.

The plaintiffs claim the company under-reports the hours that they worked and doesn't compensate drivers for the time they spend waiting to be assigned a route, completing a pre-trip inspection of their bus and for a post-trip inspection. Drivers are also "off the clock" when they complete a "sleeping child" sweep of their buses. They additionally charge that the company shifts the time incurred during charter bus trips to a later pay period to avoid having to pay overtime.

Attorney Shawn Sullivan of Concord, who represents the plaintiffs, asserts that the company's compensation policy and practices for its drivers "is a calculated choice in risking the chance of prosecution against cumulative savings for wages due and owing."

The alleged violations, Sullivan claims, didn't happen as the result of any mistaken impression of applicable but law, but rather were "willful," as the company had previously been "warned of the impropriety of their conduct."

During and before 2013, the plaintiffs who are all New Hampshire residents, were employed as bus drivers and driver assistants in worked transporting students to public schools and extracurricular activities.

Between 2013 and the time the suit was filed, First Student operated or continues to operate out of about a dozen bus yards in New Hampshire located in Belmont, Bristol, Derry, Exeter, Hillsboro, Milford, Moultonborough, Nashua, North Hampton, Plaistow, Salem and Tilton.

Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that over a 10-year span the U.S. Department of Labor has investigated First Students multiple times, and that on at least six occasions was found to have violated FLSA, the suit says.

• In 2009, following a "self-audit," the company was ordered to pay back-pay wages and overtime totaling $420,428.61 to school bus dispatchers at its Englewood, N.J. facility.

• A USDOE investigation report dated Feb. 24, 2004, regarding First Student's contention that school bus drivers at its Hudson
facility were exempt from overtime under FLSA was rejected. They were found to owe overtime back wages of $5,245.

• An investigative report dated Oct. 15, 2003 by the New Hampshire Department of Labor shows First Student was assessed a $100 fine for failure to pay wages to employees at its Belmont facility who were engaged in in-service training, meetings, pre-trip inspections and post-trip inspections.

• An investigative report dated Aug. 24, 2006, by the NHDOL shows First Student was ordered to pay $500 for having its drivers pay highway tolls with their own money.

• An investigative report dated March 19, 2009, by the NHDOL shows First Student was ordered to pay a $4,800 penalty for failing to maintain proper records at its Milford facility.

• An investigative report dated May 9, 2013, regarding multiple locations in New Hampshire, First Student was ordered to pay
a $8,000 penalty for failure to pay wages as required and failure to maintain proper records.

• Following a wage pay demand dated May 31, 2002, in Candia, a hearing officer ordered First Student to pay $23.63 in unpaid wages.

• Following a wage pay demand dated Dec. 2, 2005, in North Sutton, a hearing officer order First Student to pay $697.49 in unpaid wages.

• Following a wage pay demand dated Aug. 17, 2007, in Sutton, a hearing officer ordered First Student to pay $1,569.15 in unpaid wages.

• Following a wage pay demand dated April 21, 2008, in Milford, a hearing officer ordered First Student to pay $379.75 in unpaid wages.

• Following a wage pay demand dated Aug. 25, 2010, in Nashua, a hearing officer ordered First Student to pay $801.20 in unpaid wages.

• Following a wage pay demand dated Jan. 27, 2011, in Swanzey, a hearing officer ordered First Student to pay $1,809.29 in unpaid wages.

The plaintiffs are Darryl Gould, Luz Maria Alicea, Matthew LaFave, Sara Gladstone, Meighan Broderick, Jaimie Blombach, Pamela Johnson, Lisa Harvey, Robert Selvitella, Jr., Anthony Scopa, Dawn Marrotle, Lesa Warner, Bessie Geddes, Lisa Cady, Judy Petrain, Cynthia Cormier, Sandra Sawyer, Dawn Bonnell, Kathleen Shakley, Angela Fisher, Paula Allison, Claudette Poulin, Kryssalis Mercado-Rivera, Deborah Foley, Linda Morin, Patricia Carey, Brenda Courcy, Michele Porter, Diane Courcy, Danielle Bowes, Christopher Rechkemmer, Marjorie Paul, Jessica Keyza, Lisa Quinto, Sonya "Lizzie" Dowling, Rene Joyal, Penelope
Belanger, Michelle Brooks and Richard J. Stairs.

The plaintiffs are seeking actual damages including back pay, award of attorney's fees and legal costs, accrued interest.

First Student filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on Oct. 28. The plaintiffs have until Dec. 11 to file a response.

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Parties in year long agritourism battle in Gilford close to settlement

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Although she wants some time to think about it, it appears a Gilford woman who has challenged her neighbors' attempts to host weddings on the property next door has reached a settlement with them. After 90 minutes of diplomacy, lawyers for Monique Twomey, the town of Gilford and Andrew Martina Howe told a judge in Belknap County Superior Court Monday that they are close to an agreement.

Monique Twomey of Gunstock Hill Road challenged the Gilford Zoning Board's second decision in 2015 to refuse to uphold a cease-and-desist order issued against the Howe family by the Gilford Planning Department.

The effect of this refusal was to allow the Howes to continue to host weddings under the theory that agritourism is the same as agriculture; however, Twomey filed suit challenging the decision, which effectively prevented the Howes from hosting events in 2016 on that property.

Twomey said she sought the cease-and-desist order over concerns about noise and traffic. She said she was being denied the intended use of her home because during the times the Howes hosted events, she was unable to be outside with her two small children, and feared that a commercial operation next door to her home would diminish her property's value.

In the interim, the Gilford Planning Board granted the Howes' site plan approval after selectmen stepped in and ordered them to make a decision within a month's time.

At the March 2016 annual Town Meeting, voters adopted a new definition of agritourism and the New Hampshire State Legislature passed a law that included agritourism in its definition of agriculture.

Twomey filed four lawsuits against the town of Gilford in the Belknap County Superior Court, and all but one were dismissed. Andrew and Martina Howe joined the lawsuit as intervenors.

Andy Howe said Tuesday they hosted one wedding in a pavilion near the family farm stand, Beans and Greens, and said it was a very successful event. He said the farm itself had a great summer but declined to comment further while negotiations continue.

The three parties are scheduled to reappear in court sometime around Dec. 14 or as the court calendar permits. All parties seemed confident that an agreement could be reached.

Speaking on behalf of the town of Gilford, Town Administrator Scott Dunn declined to reveal any of the settlement negotiations but added that as long as any agreement between the Howes and Twomey falls within the town's zoning regulations, he would be fine with it.

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Tautkus, headed for Assumption, sets sights on one more title for LHS

By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Laconia High School senior Helen Tautkus will be playing college lacrosse next year for Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, after signing a letter of intent Tuesday in a ceremony at Laconia High School.
But first she has one more task that she hopes to complete while still in high school – leading the Sachems to their third straight women's lacrosse Division III state title.
In June of this year, Tautkus scored eight goals to lead her team to a 14-13 come-from-behind win over Kearsarge for a second straight title. Her coach, Kerri Howe, said she's looking forward to Tautkus as a captain playing a leadership role for the Sachems next spring.
"You have that fire, that gift. You have a lot to look forward to," said Howe She said that one of her favorite moments coaching Tautkus was when she was a sophomore and the team had reached the final four, and an opposing coach had been seen on television not even bringing up Laconia as a possible challenger.
"She was on fire that we were being dismissed as not a factor. And she let all her teammates know it and we went on to win it all," said Howe.
Tautkus has also been a standout on the basketball court, having played a key role in bringing the Laconia High School girls to the Division III championship game where she scored 15 points as they lost to undefeated Gilford.
Tautkus has already scored 188 goals in her three years of playing lacrosse, a school record which she will be adding to with every goal next year.
Tautkus thanked her parents, her coaches and her teammates and shared the celebration cake with those attending the ceremony which was held in the cafeteria at the Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School.

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Laconia High School Senior Helen Tautkus smiles after signing a letter of intent to play lacrosse at Assumption College. Her sister, Skyler, a sophomore at LHS, is at the left. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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