Last March, Andreas Flaten discovered more than 91,000 pennies in his driveway.
The change was left there by a former employer mad about Flaten's accusations of 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 last January, he complained about it, calling up the US Department of Labor to lodge an accusation of wage theft. That employer responded by leaving more than 91,000 pennies on his driveway in Fayetteville, Georgia.
Now the US government is suing that company, arguing the act constituted illegal retaliation.
In a complaint filed with a federal court in Georgia, the Department of Labor accuses A OK Walker Autoworks and its owner, Miles Walker, of more than just pettiness.
Video: The cost of making a penny
The lawsuit claims the auto-repair shop bilked its workers out of money they were owed. The lawsuit accuses the company of "repeatedly and willfully" failing to pay time and a 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 — along with the complaint that preceded 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 argued his wages had been stolen. What's happened since has restored some of his faith in government, and he thinks it 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 to say he was 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. The lawsuit says Flaten's former employers were defiant at first, saying they wouldn't give him a penny.
It says that hours later, however, Walker, the owner, 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," the lawsuit quotes Walker as saying before adding: "You know what? I've got plenty of pennies; I'll use them."
The court documents say that "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 says it did not do that; Flaten says 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 wasn't too bothered by any of that. As with an "angry toddler," he said, "you just got to kind of ignore it."
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