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Housekeepers claim workers-comp abuse

By Marty Clear
10/15/2010 © Health News Florida

Two former housekeepers at a major Tampa hotel have filed suit against the contractor that employed them, saying it illegally deducted workers’ compensation premiums out of their paychecks and those of many others.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 7 in Hillsborough County circuit court, names Total Facility Services LLC, which provides housekeeping services for Intercontinental Hotel in Tampa. The hotel is not being sued.

It’s against the law for an employer to force workers to pay for injury-compensation coverage, said Andrew Sabolic, assistant director of the Florida Division of Workers Compensation.

If the accusations are true, Sabolic said, “that’s a criminal offense. It’s insurance fraud.”

The plaintiffs in the case, Carmen Armador and Mayra Montenegro, are represented by Luis A. “Tony” Cabassa, from the Tampa firm of Wenzel Fenton Cabassa.
The company didn’t hide the deductions, Cabassa said; it listed them on the pay stubs.
Companies “just can’t do that,” he said, adding that he hopes to win certification of the suit as a class action. “I can’t even imagine what their defense will be.”

No attorney is listed yet for the defendant and Cabassa said he doesn’t think the company has been served with the lawsuit yet.
Total Facility Services LLC appears to be the same company that is listed in Georgia corporate records as having an office in an Atlanta suburb; its registered agent, Patricia Still, could not be reached.

An Atlanta attorney who represents Total Facility Services LLC in a separate case in Georgia said he knows nothing of the lawsuit filed in Florida.
The Intercontinental Hotel did not return calls seeking comment.

A consultant in the field of workers’ compensation said he’d never heard of a similar case in his 25-year career. Joseph Paduda of Health Strategy Associates said: “This is so far beyond the pale it beggars description.”

Capt. Vance Akins of the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud said he has not heard these accusations before but requested court documents so he could look into the matter. He said companies that have unskilled low-wage staffs sometimes violate laws on wages and benefits because workers may be unfamiliar with their rights.

Both Armador and Montenegro worked for Total Facility Services for just over two years, the lawsuit says. Armador was “let go” in December of last year, Cabassa said, and Montenegro was employed until June.

They were paid every two weeks, and workers’ compensation fees were deducted from every check, Cabassa said. He pointed to a typical check of Armador’s showing pre-tax wages of $341, with a workers’ compensation deduction of $25. At that rate, the deductions would amount to more than $600 a year.

Armador has an unrelated suit pending against Total Facility Services, Cabassa said. He declined to offer specifics but said it involves allegations of discrimination.

Cabassa said he is seeking to expand the suit into a class-action case; more than 100 current and former employees of Total Facility Services in Tampa could join.

The suit seeks the return of all the money deducted, plus interest.

--Marty Clear is an independent journalist in Tampa.