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Covid-19 Break: Employment Law, Tiger King & Joe Exotic

Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: Did Joe Exotic and Doc violate minimum wage laws? Can I sue my employer if they make me work in unsafe conditions? How do I know if my boss does not pay me enough? How Many Laws Did Joe Exotic Break?

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, our lawyers, like many Americans find ourselves with more free time our hands (don’t worry, we are still here fighting evil employers). With the steady rise of social distancing, more Americans are turning to TV shows and documentaries as a source of entertainment. (see More Coronavirus (Covid-19) Tips For EmployeesCoronavirus: What Will Happen At Work?Our Handling Of The Coronavirus (Covid-19) OutbreakEmployment Law: Legislative COVID-19 ResponseCoronavirus (Covid-19): Our Firm is Thinking of You and Your Families).Unsurprisingly, the Netflix show, Tiger King, was an overnight success. The show is completely captivating. The first few episodes are completely unbelievable. So, today, instead of diving deeper into Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) rights during the Coronavirus pandemic or talking about COVID-19 whistleblower rights, our employment law attorneys are turning to the Tiger King.

This documentary has everything from colorful characters, to murder mystery, to exotic animals to cults. There are tales of triumph, despair, hope and sadness. Of course, one of the first things that our lawyers noticed while watching the show, is the many wage and hour laws that were violated throughout the show. Of course, that would not be on the forefront of possibly anyone else’s mind, except employment lawyers, but it stood out amongst the other storylines. If you are like us at The Spitz Law Firm, undoubtably, you’ve discussed Tiger King more and more during daily conversation. From sharing your favorite Tiger King Meme, to debating who is the best/worst character on the show, there is so much to discuss.

Our attorneys, as most lawyers will do, offer a disclosur: none of the characters on the show are good people. Another disclosure: spoilers are coming ahead. If you don’t what to spoil your viewing, stop here.

All of the characters boast some sort of ignorance, animal abuse and/or disregard for the law. It is like the idiots out there refusing social distancing and stay at home orders. The lone exception is for Saffrey (“Saff”), who lost his arm after being mauled by a tiger at work. Talk about Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) violations!

Anyway, Saff is the true hero of the docuseries. Upon doing more research for this blog, it became apparent that Saff was misgendered throughout the Tiger King series and is actually a trans man who prefers the pronouns, he/him. (See Can You Be Fired For Being Gay, Lesbian, Trans?; Gender Law: Who Said Girls Can’t Coach Football?; Will Tomorrow’s Bosses Discriminate?).

Saff was mauled by a tiger during the course of his workday, performing his daily chores. In October 2013, Saff broke protocol and stuck his hand into the cage instead of using a stick she used every other day. When given the choice between keeping his hand/arm (which would require two years of reconstructive surgery) and just cutting it off and getting back to work, he chose to lose the arm. Maybe he was worried about Workers’ Compensation retaliation. (See Can I Sue If I Was Fired For Filing A Workers’ Compensation Claim? I Need A Lawyer!; Can I Be Fired For Taking Time Off For Surgery Related To A Work Injury? I Need A Lawyer!).

Saff was back to work seven days after the tiger bit him. Certainly, this is not the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from their jobs in each 12 month period (but clearly the Tiger King as an employer have to provide FMLA leave as he does not employ at least 50 people within a 75 mile radius)(See Employment Law: Am I Entitled To Paid Sick Leave?; FMLA Retaliation Tips – Call The Right Attorney). Of course, losing an arm does qualify as a disability for which an employer would have to provide a reasonable accommodation. (See My Job Doesn’t Have FMLA, Can I Get Medical Leave?; Is Time Off A Reasonable ADA Accommodation?; How Do I Get Reasonable Disability Accommodation At My Job?).

Certainly, our employment lawyers don’t know many employees who would be willing to chop off an arm just to get back to work. His love for his work and the Tigers is what made the choice easy for him. Although Saff, is one of our personal favorite characters on the documentary, his experience is not what compelled our attorneys to write about Tiger King.

During the second episode of the docuseries, “Cult of Personality,” the producers do a deep dive into the working conditions of Doc Antel’s Zoo. Specifically, one of the former employees interviewed stated that the zookeeper only paid them $100 per week. Excuse me, what? That detail was kind of glossed over during the documentary, but that is a huge red flag. Joe Exotic was slightly better. He paid his employees $150 per week. But still that doesn’t come close to being above minimum wage. It does not matter that nearly all of the zoo’s covered by the show provided sub-par housing for their employees. Providing housing for employees does not give the employer the right to pay employees below minimum wage. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) employees, even employees who receive housing from their employer, must make at least the state minimum wage for their hours worked. (see Top Wage Lawyer: Is Everyone Entitled To Earn Minimum Wage?Can Amusement Park Workers Be Paid Less Than Minimum Wage?Can My Job Call Me A Volunteer And Not Pay Me?; and Should Outside Sales People Be Paid Minimum Wage?).

The FLSA mandates that covered employers must follow the minimum wage requirement. The Ohio minimum wage requirement applies to businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $314,000 per year. When employers pay employees less than minimum wage, or do not pay an employee for all hours worked, or doesn’t pay overtime pay as required by law, the employer stole from the employee. According to Doc’s and Joe Exotic’s employees, they were grossly underpaid during their years of service to their respective zoos.

The entire documentary focuses on nearly every type of rule and lawbreaking there is. Both civil and criminal laws are challenged by the main characters in the docu-series. But the clearest violation, is probably their wage violations of the FLSA.

Doc Antle’s former employees claimed that they worked twelve-hour days, nearly every day and only took home $100 per week. The FLSA also requires employers to pay time and half for each hour that an employee works over 40 hours in a work week. (See Are All Professionals Exempt From Overtime Pay?; How Far Back In Time Can I Sue My Employer For Overtime Pay?; Are Managers Entitled To Overtime Pay?). The math on this one is pretty simple. Twelve hours a day multiplied by seven days per week = roughly 84-hour work weeks. $100 divided by 84 hours equates to roughly $1.19/hour! That is nothing. And obviously, well below minimum wage, even in South Carolina, which consistently has one of the lowest national minimum wages in the country, just $7.25 in 2020. Hypothetically speaking, if Doc paid his employees minimum wage and overtime, their pay checks would have looked a lot better than $100 per week. $7.25 times 40 hours is $290 for their straight pay time. Then you have to add in the over time pay. Their overtime rate at time and a half would have been $10.88/hour. Next, $10.88 multiplied by 44 hours is roughly $478.50 in overtime pay. The overtime pay of $478.50 plus the straight time pay of $290 for the first 40 hours is $768.50/week. Doc got away with paying his employees only $100 per week for decades when he owed them hundreds more per week.

Joe Exotic’s employees were paid slightly more, but it is still a far cry from legal. According to former employees interviewed on the show, Joe Exotic paid his employees $150 per day. The math is similar. His employees also stated that they worked roughly 80 hours per week. If you divide $150 by 80 that means that Joe’s employees were paid roughly $1.87 per hour. Oklahoma’s minimum wage in 2020 is also $7.25 per hour. Under these requirements Joe’s employees would have earned roughly the same amount as Doc’s give or take a few hours of overtime.

The former employees try to justify the low wage by pointing out the fact that both Doc and Joe Exotic provide housing for Zoo employees. However, even if an employer provides housing for employees, that does not give the employer the ability to pay employees under minimum wage. To add insult to injury, the report of the zoo living conditions for employees, seemed almost worse than the tiger’s living conditions!

Joe Exotic knew that he paid his employees too little money and encouraged them to sort through the expired meat truck to find edible dinner for themselves. One of Doc’s former employees stated that their living quarters were completely infested with cockroaches.

Sadly, even though Doc and Joe are marvelous characters, they are predators to their employees. Truly, they are the definition of bad bosses.

-Spoiler Alert- the rest of the docuseries high lights the fact that Joe preyed on vulnerable populations of drug users and people who were recently released from prison and had no other options. Doc, used a similar tactic to target young, vulnerable workers who would do just about anything to be close to the large cats. This abuse of power went completely unchecked. Not only did Joe and Doc violate a slew of labor laws, but they also violated the trust of their employees.

Theoretically speaking, these former employees could have a class action lawsuit against the zookeepers. The statute of limitations, or deadline to file is two years after the last infraction. That means that it’s probably too late for Joe Exotic’s employees to sue for stolen wages, but Doc Antle’s recent employees could sue for the wages and overtime.

No matter the circumstances, wage theft is unacceptable in any form. Even Joe Exotic should not be able to get away with wage theft.

If you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against or harassed based on my …” race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our office at 866-797-6040 to get help now. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

If you believe that your employer is not paying you all of your wages, paying you less than minimum wage, unlawfully deducting money from your paycheck, not paying you time and a half for overtime, or is otherwise cheating you out of wages requires contact the minimum wage violation lawyers and overtime claim attorneys at The Spitz Law Firm today for a free and confidential initial consultation. You may have a claim under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act or Ohio Fair Labor Standards Act. The wage and hour lawyers at The Spitz Law Firm will provide you with the best options for your wage and hour pay dispute situation. If you even think that you may be entitled to overtime pay that you are not being paid, call our attorneys at 866-797-6040 now!

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