Pleasanton Weekly

News - August 6, 2010

Temp workers say they were bilked by local staffing firm

Employees say paychecks slowed, then stopped coming

by Glenn Wohltmann

A Pleasanton-based staffing company is being criticized by workers who say they're owed money for work they did but were never paid for.

The workers, 12 in Oregon and at least two in California, say they submitted timesheets to Aptitude Staffing Solutions and were repeatedly promised checks but never received them.

Now the case has moved into the courts and has been handed to officials in both states.

Carmen Meuter, a 70-year-old physical therapist who lives in Brentwood, is awaiting a hearing from the state labor board. She's also filed a lawsuit in small claims court in an effort to get the money she says she's owed.

The state Department of Industrial Relations, which handles wage claims, shows Meuter has filed a claim seeking 106 hours in unpaid earnings. Aptitude has another open claim in California from Allison Abels, who has not received her final pay, and also has seven closed claims. State officials could not immediately determine whether Aptitude had won or lost those prior claims.

The California Secretary of State shows two listings for Aptitude Staffing, one filed in 2005 in Walnut Creek and one filed in Pleasanton in 2008. Both list Darren Lawson as owner, although he calls himself vice president of recruiting. Pleasanton city records show that Aptitude Staffing filed a business permit in 2008 but it expired at the end of the year and was never renewed.

"I've served him (Lawson) the papers. We have a date on Aug. 25," Meuter said. "I know he won't show up, so I'll get a judgment."

Meuter said she worked for Aptitude Staffing last year. At first, she was paid. Then, she said, checks started showing up late and finally stopped coming altogether. Meuter said she was never paid for work she did from Nov. 15 until Dec. 31, 2009.

She said she's owed about $4,500 -- and that the company is keeping her from doing any more work for the home health care agency that hired her through Aptitude.

Meuter has contacted police in Pleasanton but was told they couldn't help her, she said.

The workers in Oregon have the same story. They were hired by Aptitude to work at Safeway warehouses in Clackamas; again, checks started showing up late, and again, stopped altogether.

Brookes Gulleff says she worked for the Safeway grocery warehouse but was never paid.

"The job was to pay $13.75 an hour and was to have lasted about two and a half weeks, 88 hours total. I was filling in for a girl that was going on vacation," Gulleff said, adding that she was told it was possible to get hired by Safeway directly.

When her first check never arrived, she contacted Aptitude Staffing, which repeatedly claimed it had placed checks in the mail and, twice, promised to send checks by overnight delivery.

When she raised the issue with her manager at Safeway, she was told not to worry.

"She said that I should continue to work my scheduled shift," Gulleff said. "She said, 'Don't worry about it, Safeway's a big company, we'll make sure you get paid.'"

That story changed later, when her manager told her to stop work because Safeway couldn't guarantee her pay. Gulleff said her manager told her she had talked to Safeway's human resources and legal department, and said she didn't think Gulleff would get paid, but that she wouldn't elaborate.

Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill said in an email that Safeway has stopped doing business with Aptitude.

"This is an extremely unfortunate situation," Massingill said. "We lived up to our contractual obligation to Aptitude and fully expect Aptitude to fulfill its obligation to its employees by providing full payment for all time worked."

Meanwhile, Gulleff said she's in a bind because she counted on Aptitude's promises to pay.

"I'm about to be evicted from my apartment," she said. "My electricity is about to be shut off. I'm extremely financially strapped. I don't have a dollar to my name."

Gulleff and two other workers have filed claims with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

An Internet search shows 10 employees at Aptitude Staffing, but the firm is operated from a single room in a building at 6200 Stoneridge Mall Road that rents office and receptionist services. Aptitude still has employment ads at several online job sites, but the company's website, which promises "advanced recruiting technology" and "industry-experienced recruiting teams," has links that no longer work.

Gulleff said recruiting in Oregon was largely done by a temp worker at Safeway who would round up his friends to cover shifts. Gulleff said that man is also waiting to get paid.

Aptitude also has created a new Facebook site after its original site filled with complaints about workers not being paid -- complaints made, for the most part, by Gulleff.

Repeated telephone calls to Lawson went unanswered, but Lawson did respond to email inquiries about the workers' claims. He said that "(o)ur records indicate that all candidates hired through Aptitude Staffing Solutions have been paid in full," but noted that he's aware "of a handful of preceding employees who have attempted to produce fraudulent checks and/or timesheets on Aptitude's payroll account."

Labor officials in Oregon and California are investigating the claims, and Meuter's case is set to be heard later this month.

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