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Labor & Employment

Is a fee-laden debit card ‘lawful money’ for worker pay purposes? Class action seeks court ruling

Posted Jun 17, 2013 2:09 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An ex-worker has sued the owners
of a McDonald's franchise that issues
its paychecks only through debit cards
that carry fees. Bikeworldtravel
Shutterstock.com

A worker at a Pennsylvania McDonald's who says she was told she would not be paid unless she accepted her money in the form of a debit card that carried hefty charges for virtually every transaction has filed suit against her employers.

Natalie Gunshannon, a single mom who was to be paid $7.44 per hour, quit over the pay dispute and sought counsel, saying that she needs every dollar she earns. On Thursday, she filed suit in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, asking for class action status, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees, according to the Citizens' Voice and the Times Leader.

The articles don't include any comment from the defendant employers, Albert and Carol Mueller. They own 16 McDonald's franchises in northeastern Pennsylvania under a limited partnership arrangement and declined to comment through a franchise association spokeswoman, the Citizens' Voice said.

Similarly, in a statement subsequently provided to ABC News, the couple said: "We value our employees and everything they do for our organization. We are committed to providing them the best possible work environment so they can deliver the fast, reliable service that our customers expect. We are aware of this matter. But at this time, we have not seen a copy of the complaint. For this reason, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further."

McDonald's is not a defendant in the suit.

Gunshannon says she is seeking fair play and legal recognition that an employer cannot force workers to accept a debit card with fees instead of a paper check or electronic deposit, both of which she said she was denied.

The major bank debit card at issue in the case charges $1.50 for use at that bank's ATM machine, according to the article, but Gunshannon said doing so would cost her several dollars more, because there isn't an ATM for that bank within 60 miles of her home, the Citizens Voice' reports. Other fees include $5 for over-the-counter cash, 75 cents per online bill payment, $1 to check the balance and a $10-per-month inactivity fee if the card isn't used for more than three months.

Under state law, workers must be paid with "lawful money," but what exactly constitutes lawful money may be a gray area.

Her lawyer, Michael J. Cefalo of West Pittston, contends that the restaurant's profit-boosting payroll card "scheme" violates the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Act.

The debit-card arrangement is "squeezing the most vulnerable of our society," he told the Times Leader, adding: "When they work hard and earn their wages, why should they have to pay fees to collect their rightful wages?"

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "New government-issued debit cards impose many fees, may raise privacy issues"

Chicago Tribune: "Changes follow criticism of CTA's Ventra card plan"

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