About 250 workers are suing Largo-based ThinkDirect Marketing Inc., accusing the company of failing to pay overtime and wrongfully docking their pay during even the shortest of breaks.
Current and former employees accuse the company of devising a system that automatically signed off workers when they are away from their computers and deducting that time from their pay.
"If you were idle for a period of 30 seconds or so, the system would log you out," said Wolfgang Florin, a Palm Harbor lawyer representing the workers. "This happened literally dozens of times a day . . . and you would not be paid."
Florin filed two lawsuits last year on behalf of employees at ThinkDirect Marketing and its parent operation National Magazine Exchange — one in Pinellas County Circuit Court, the other in U.S. District Court in Tampa.
In the federal case, the court certified a "collective action," which means the workers opt into the lawsuit to be a part of the class, which 250 have done so far. In the county case, the court denied class-action status, but Florin said the case is on appeal.
ThinkDirect, which currently has more than 750 employees, declined specific comment about the pending litigation or claims by individual employees.
Julie Christman, marketing director for National Magazine Exchange and ThinkDirect Marketing, said: "Like everyone in our industry, we have our share of disgruntled former employees. These employee matters are in no way unique to our company, but rather are common to most companies our size, in our industry and our long time in business."
Two former employees initiated the lawsuits after they said the company systematically cut their wages, despite the fact they had performed the work.
Vanessa Fantauzzi of Largo and Nikki Ritz of Clearwater say the company owes them some $15,000 in overtime and pay cut during breaks.
In their suits, they "allege that — based on the fact that they were automatically signed off of the phone-computer system numerous times throughout the work day and were not paid for this time — defendant consistently failed to pay them and other similarly situated telesales employees."
In addition, Fantauzzi said in the suit that she held the position of "customer retention associate," which paid $10 an hour in addition to commissions. But if she did not reach the goals set by the company, her hourly wage would drop to $6.79 an hour, in violation of wage and labor laws, her lawyer said.
Fantauzzi worked for the company during two tours, first from 2004 to March 2005 and then again from March 2008 to November 2008. She was full-time (40 hours a week) but said she often worked overtime, for which she was not paid.
Said Florin: "The problem with that is there is a very clear federal regulation that employees are entitled to be compensated for all breaks. You can fire somebody. You can discipline them. What you can't do is take money from their paychecks."