An honest attempt by the Hyatt Regency Guam to classify its employees as required by federal law and pay them overtime led the employees to question why they had never been paid overtime before.

Now the Hyatt is potentially facing shelving out years’ worth of back pay.

Six chefs and a maintenance worker at the Hyatt Regency Guam filed suit in federal court on Oct. 4 asking they be paid for “all hours worked in excess of 40 ” prior to the Aug. 23 implementation of changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Bill R. Mann attorney and partner in the law firm of Berman O’Connor Mann & Shklov is representing the group. He told the Journal that his clients received notice on Aug. 26 that they were entitled to overtime pay. He said they began to wonder what had suddenly changed overnight.

“They got a letter saying that from here on out you get overtime due to a change in regulations. That prompted my clients to ask the question ‘Why weren’t we getting it before ?’” Mann said.

Mann said his clients claim is not about the new regulations but the old ones.

According to Patrick G. Candoleta investigator for the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (See “Q&A” in the July 26 edition of the Journal”) the new regulations clarify the difference between white collar and blue collar workers.

“The new regulations clarify and update the so-called white collar exemptions. The term ‘white collar’ refers to categories of employees who are generally not entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a work week. These are generally executives professionals administrative employees outside sales employees and computer professionals ” Candoleta said.

The plaintiffs in the case are Robert A. Samuelson a contract employee who worked until Sept. 30 as a chef de partie; Sonny De Vera and Napoleon Gonzales Jr. chefs de partie at Al Dente Restaurant; Reynaldo Figueroa and Angkenita Aneko chefs de partie at La Mirenda Restaurant; Rozie Takamine sous chef at La Mirenda Restaurant; Tulen Tulen sous chef at Niji Restaurant; Daniel H. Hipolito chef de partie in the commissary; and John M. McCormick team leader in the maintenance department at the hotel.

The suit stated that Hyatt’s actions were willful and pursuant to wage and hour laws the defendants are liable for punitive damages equal to three times the wages due.

Employment records and time sheets are still under review Mann said.

An answer to the claim has not yet been filed by Hyatt attorneys and management officials at the hotel declined comment. MBJ