Pinellas County wage-theft law challenged as unconstitutional


A Largo executive search firm is challenging the constitutionality of Pinellas County’s recently enacted wage-theft ordinance.

KLA Industries is an Ohio-based executive search firm located at 801 W. Bay Dr., Suite 203 in Largo.

Zachary J. “Zach” Burns, 30, is a Madeira Beach resident and former KLA employee who recently moved from West Chester, Ohio. State records show Burns incorporated the recruitment company Stratus Search in March 2017. Stratus Search has its office at 3530 1st Ave. N, Suite 203, in St. Petersburg.

In 2015, Pinellas County Commissioners voted unanimously to enact a “wage theft” ordinance. In effect as of Jan. 1, 2016, the law allows local workers who believe an employer has illegally denied them wages to file a complaint with the county’s Office of Human Rights, which also fields complaints on housing, employment and disability discrimination issues.

If successful, employees are awarded treble damages. Much of the ordinance came from a similar one enacted by the City of St. Petersburg in 2015.

According to a complaint filed May 23 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, shortly after Burns resigned from KLA Industries in 2016, the company placed a recruit with one of his former clients and obtained payment for doing so.

When KLA refused to pay Burns the $5,400 commission, he filed a wage-theft complaint with the Office of Human Rights.

While the hearing will not take place until July 17, KLA is being proactive, filing a suit where the company denies Burns is entitled to the commission, and accuses him of trying to steal its clients.

KLA is contesting the constitutionality of the county’s wage-theft law on several grounds: It sets up an impermissible court outside the supreme court, district courts of appeal, circuit and county courts; it does not allow trial by jury and does not allow an employer to pursue counterclaims or assert any set-off defenses against the amount owed or against the imposition of treble damages.

 

Two Largo court petitions raise question of fairness in Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act


A pair of City of Largo court petitions raise questions on the fairness of the state’s Contraband Forfeiture Act.

Ronisha Ke’irra Scott, 24, is a St. Petersburg resident. An African-American woman, Scott lives in a 675-square-foot St. Petersburg home appraised by the county at $26,435, with a sales value of $31,900.

On June 1, Largo Police arrested Scott for running a stop sign and having “excessively tinted windows.” During the stop, officers allegedly found two dilaudid pain pills and a lit marijuana cigarette in her 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier.

Scott insisted neither the pills nor the joint were hers.

Before the June 1 incident, Pinellas County records show Scott’s only criminal charge had been in 2016 for misdemeanor retail theft.

Gary Stevens Sunday is a 47-year-old Clearwater resident. Sunday, a white male, owns a 1,336-square-foot home that the county appraises at $139,931, with a sales value of $172,600.

On the same day as Scott’s detention, Largo Police also arrested Sunday after allegedly finding methamphetamine in small baggies, a meth pipe, syringes, a safe, and a digital scale in his 2015 Kia Optima SX.

Sunday, like Scott, denied the items belonged to him. The arrest report does not explain why police stopped him.

Sunday was charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell, possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. According to his arrest report, he is unemployed.

Online dockets show Stevens pleaded “not guilty” to the criminal charges.

A common interpretation of Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act is that law enforcement can seize and permanently keep certain items that were an instrument of, or a product of, a crime. Defendants need not have been convicted of the crime, nor even be charged.

On June 9, the City of Largo filed separate court petitions in Pinellas County Circuit Court to seize the vehicle from each of two wildly different criminal suspects — Scott and Sunday.

The requests raise several issues about the fairness of Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture Act.

If Sunday is accused of dealing in illegal drugs, the Act would seem reasonable — although some legal experts argue it is unfair to seize a defendant’s property unless (or until) he or she is charged and convicted of a crime.

On the other hand, Scott’s alleged crime was not dealing drugs, and her record shows no such offense in the past. In this case, seizing her vehicle might seem unnecessarily harsh, especially if Scott needs the vehicle to drive to work.

Taking Scott’s car could drive her further into poverty.

While an attorney is representing Sunday in his “not guilty” plea, online dockets show Scott has not yet filed a plea, nor does she have an attorney.

All this leads to one question: Is Largo’s attempted seizure of Scott’s car an appropriate, reasonable and legal application of Florida’s Contraband Forfeiture law?