PINELLAS PARK — Businessman Steven Miller thought it was downright weird when he got notice of a lawsuit claiming he owed unpaid overtime to two former employees.
He didn't believe he had stiffed anybody at his microchip manufacturing business, but that wasn't the weird part.
The weird part, he said, was that he had never heard of one of the people suing him, Brenda White.
He checked and found that White had been on his payroll for $8 per hour for several months in 2007 and 2009, and was paid a total of $21,218.
He checked more and found some of his workers knew who she was. But no one had hired her, and no one remembered her ever working for his business, Industrial Engineering & Development, he said.
Miller's conclusion, outlined in court records, was this: White had somehow gotten on his payroll without ever working for him.
And now, he says, she was asking to be paid overtime for work she never did.
"It was shocking to know that somebody could be that stupid," Miller said.
"I couldn't believe that anybody would actually do that. And then I couldn't believe anybody would actually put themselves in the limelight after they got away with it."
When a reporter called White to ask whether she ever worked for Industrial Engineering & Development, she called Miller a vulgar name and hung up. She did not return a message later left on her voice mail. Her attorney also could not be reached.
The matter is now resting with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which is investigating to see if any criminal charges should be filed.
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Businesses generally are supposed to pay nonsalaried workers 50 percent more for each hour they work above a 40-hour work week.
Unpaid overtime, labor lawyers say, is a widespread, common abuse. But some businesses complain, too. It can be more expensive to fight unpaid overtime claims than to simply pay them off, owners say, so companies can be pressured to settle.
Miller said he decided to fight the case anyway — even if it cost him more than settling. After the complaint was filed against his company in May 2011, he told his attorney, Michael Siegel, to prepare for trial.
Miller said he still isn't certain about how White got on the payroll in the first place, but he has some clues.
First, he said, White's boyfriend, John Sederquist, had worked for Miller's company. Sederquist was the other litigant in the unpaid overtime case against Miller.
Second, Miller said the person coordinating payroll at the time turned out to be a thief and is now serving 20 years' probation and paying restitution.
Because of the overtime suit, lawyers asked White to appear in January for a formal interview called a deposition.
In the deposition, White said she was hired by Miller and one other man to work as a helper for her boyfriend, Sederquist.
But White appeared confused as she said she worked full time at Miller's Pinellas Park business and that she also worked a different full-time, day-shift job at Southeast Personnel Leasing in Holiday, in southern Pasco County. White said she sometimes did work for Miller's company by telephone while she was physically at her job in Pasco County.
"So you were getting paid for working at Southeast but also getting paid for working for (Miller's company) at the same time?" attorney Siegel asked her.
"Yes," she said.
"And you see nothing ethically wrong with that?"
After a few hours of the deposition, White developed a headache and stopped. A followup was never scheduled. Both sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit last month.
Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said he expects his office to make a decision soon on whether criminal charges are warranted in this case.