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Know Your Rights
Source: Three Village Patch
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Staff Sues Head of the Harbor Billionaire For Watering Down Wages

Former household staff members are suing a Head of the Harbor billionaire for stiffing them on wages because they failed to close doors or make sure hanging pictures were level at his palace on the Long Island Sound.

Robert Mercer, co-chief executive officer of Setauket hedge fund Renaissance, is accused of taking money from household staff’s for each time they failed to replace a shampoo bottles, properly close doors and other service tasks around the mansion.

“This is a social justice case,” said Troy Kessler, Melville-based attorney representing the staff. “Domestic, low-wage workers are frequently taken advantage of and this case it’s particularly egregious.”

Kessler, along with Make the Road New York, a nonprofit organization seeking justice for latinos and working class communities, filed a lawsuit July 10 in Central Islip courts seeking more than $150,000 for Alba Aguilar, Luis E. Castro Alzate and Carmen Rodriguez. These three employees worked in Mercer’s home under Owl’s Nest Inc., a company Mercer created to hire his household staff, between June 2011 and January 2013.

The workers claim Mercer subtracted $10 to $20 from their semi-annual bonus checks for each time they earned a demerit such as “failing to replace shampoo bottles and other toiletries if there was an amount less than one-third of a bottle remaining,” and “failing to leave extra towels in the bathroom” and “close doors properly.”

Other types of demerits includes included, “failing to change the razor blade in the shaver,” “failing to level a picture,” “leaving items in the refrigerator” and “improperly counting beverages,” according to the court complaint.

Kessler said New York State Labor Law prevents employers from making deductions earned by employees without their consent and prior authorization.

“I’ve handled with cases to unlawful wage deductions before, but I have never seen demerits for someone failing to close a door or refill toothpaste,” he said.

The former household staffers also claim they worked 50 to 65 hours a week without ever receiving overtime pay, or one and a half times their salary as required under New York Labor Law.

It’s difficult to know exactly how much the workers are owed, because all records of their hours and workweeks are in Mercer’s possession, according to the complaint.

Mercer’s Setauket-based hedge fund, co managed by top billionaire Jim Simons, is worth approximately $20 billion in net assets as of April, Bloomberg reports. Also, the complaint states Mercer was named one of the top-earning hedge fund managers by Forbes magazine.

Mercer’s Owl’s Nest palace garners one of the highest tax bills in Smithtown, at nearly $304,000 a year, according to Long Island Blockshopper.

Phone calls to Owl’s Nest Inc. were not returned by Monday evening.

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