The O’Brien Law Firm sues in federal court on behalf of 17 field inspectors who were stiffed on over $1 million in bonuses and overtime pay
On May 25, 2023, the O’Brien Law Firm filed suit on behalf of 17 field inspectors in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas for over $1 million in unpaid bonuses and unpaid overtime pay and penalties. That case is Butler, et al. v. Access Restoration Services US, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 4:23-cv-01936. The lawsuit can be reviewed here.
In the first half of 2022, the 17 plaintiffs were hired to go to sites of residential property damage primarily from Hurricane Ida (Sept. 2021, LA/TX) and Hurricane Ian (Sept. 2021, FL) to document damage onsite and send the photos and data to in-house property damage estimators for the company. ARS executives made promises to field inspectors of bonuses that would be twice their salary to work an enormous amount in a relatively short period of time, and often under difficult conditions, to entice these field inspectors to join the company.
In January 2022, ARS set up a company called Global Estimating Services, Inc. as an attempt to shield ARS from liability for this operation. What these 17 field inspectors did not know is that in December 2021, ARS had wired $3 million to the Houston insurance claims law firm of McClenny, Moseley & Associates as investment capital to help MMA generate leads for potentially hundreds of clients with residential insurance hurricane claims. According to a lawsuit recently filed by ARS against MMA, MMA promised ARS a return of 4-5x that investment from a cut of MMA’s contingency attorney fees when the firm would settle its clients’ insurance claims. (In Texas, an attorney is prohibited from splitting attorney fees with a non-attorney in such circumstances.) ARS’s subsidiary Global Estimating Services, which technically employed O’Brien’s clients, has also sued MMA in a separate case for a claim of almost $10M in unpaid fees from the estimates produced by O’Brien’s clients and others at the company.
After the deal between ARS and MMA blew up, ARS closed up GES, laid off the remaining field inspectors (including many of the plaintiffs in this case), and stiffed all of these field inspectors on at least $800K in unpaid bonuses. Furthermore, it appears that the field inspectors were required by law to be paid overtime pay when then went over 40 hours in a week, but were never paid overtime, with on average approximately $20K owed in overtime and penalties per field inspector. Not a single field inspector in this case has been paid a dime by ARS or GES for their accrued bonuses or overtime hours, with the average bonus owed being around $47K per field inspector. The anger and distress of the O’Brien Law Firm’s clients is understandably palpable.
As alleged in their lawsuit, the field inspectors are concerned that ARS was using their work to generate in-house, inflated property damage estimates (that ARS would not allow the field inspectors to review) to inflate the insurance claim settlements for MMA’s clients. In theory, when MMA would receive a contingency fee (in other words, a percentage) of its client’s insurance payout, MMA would then kick back a cut of that attorney fee to ARS as the return on ARS’s $3M investment. Therefore, as the theory suggests, if ARS could maximize its property damage estimates for MMA’s clients, ARS could in turn maximize its kickbacks as well. The 18 plaintiffs have alleged that ARS was using GES to help perpetrate a fraud and therefore ARS and GES are one of the same. O’Brien anticipates that ARS will attempt to use the GES legal entity that ARS created and then closed to shield ARS from liability for the wages owed to O’Brien’s clients.
Besides suing ARS and GES, the 17 plaintiffs have also individually sued GES manager Autumn Garibay of Arizona, as well as ARS executives Nathan Normoyle, Michael Needham, and Guiseppe “Joe” Gagliano, for individual liability for the field inspectors’ overtime claims.