- In March 2021, Andreas Flaten discovered more than 91,000 pennies in his driveway.
- The change was left there by a former employer mad that Flaten had complained about wage theft.
- The US Department of Labor is suing the company, saying it failed to pay overtime.
When Andreas Flaten didn't receive his final paycheck from a former employer in January 2021, he complained about it, calling up the US Department of Labor to report the theft of his wages. That employer responded by leaving more than 91,000 pennies on his driveway in Fayetteville, Georgia.
Now that employer is being sued by the government, which is arguing that act constituted illegal retaliation.
In a complaint filed with a federal court in Georgia, the Department of Labor accuses A OK Walker Autoworks and Miles Walker of more than just pettiness.
The lawsuit claims that the auto repair shop bilked its workers out of money they were owed. According to the lawsuit, the company "repeatedly and willfully" failed to pay time-and-half for overtime, instead relying on a flat rate of pay regardless of whether someone worked more than 40 hours in a week.
A OK Walker Autoworks did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The March 2021 penny stunt — and the complaint of a missing paycheck that led up to it — appears to have prompted investigators to take a closer look at the shop's books.
"I honestly didn't think anything would be done," Flaten, 27, said in a phone interview with Insider. He didn't expect much when he first complained about his stolen wages. What's happened since has restored some of his faith in government, and he thinks should be a lesson to other workers who find themselves in a similar position
"They definitely should not be scared to reach out," he said. "Speak up. Don't be quiet about it. Because if you're quiet about it, it's just going to continue to happen to you and everybody else."
The saga began in January 2021, when Flaten called the Department of Labor about his missing $915, per the complaint. Soon after, on January 27, 2021, a representative from the department's Wage and Hour Division called the company to find out what happened. At first, according to the lawsuit, Flaten's former employers were defiant, saying they wouldn't give him a penny.
Hours later, however, the owner, Miles Walker, decided he would pay after all — one cent at a time.
"How can you make this guy realize what a disgusting example of a human being he is," Walker said, according to the lawsuit. "[Y]ou know what? I've got plenty of pennies; I'll use them."
According to the court documents, "on top of the pile of pennies, Defendants left a copy of Mr. Flaten's last paycheck with an expletive written on the outside."
The only point of contention is how the pennies came to be coated in oil. The company claims it did not do that; Flaten said he still has a stain in his driveway.
The company dedicated a page on its website to the penny stunt, in which it pushes back against "cancel culture" — after the incident went viral, the company's online reviews tanked — and urges readers to "take a stand against the tyranny of an overbearing government." It also appears to complain about Flaten in a series of questions.
Flaten said he isn't too bothered by any of that. As with an "angry toddler," he said, "you just got to kinda ignore it."
Have a news tip? Email this reporter: email@example.com