Gov. Kevin Stitt’s pick to becomes Oklahoma’s next secretary of veterans affairs and the military is facing accusations that his consulting company violated federal labor laws by underpaying veterans.
Federal court filings show that 15 former workers have sued Tulsa-based Check-6 along with its founder and CEO Brian Brurud, whom Stitt appointed to the unpaid cabinet position in February. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. One of the plaintiffs lives in Louisiana, and the company has an office in the state.
Check-6, founded in 2007, provides consulting services to high-risk industries, including offshore oil drilling operations across the world. It contracts almost exclusively with armed-service veterans, who act as “coaches,” providing safety training and other services.
Fifteen of those coaches allege that the company “showed reckless disregard” of the law by classifying the coaches as consultants instead of employees in an effort to avoid paying them overtime, court filings show.
The plaintiffs contend they lost more than $670,000 or an average of $44,790 per person, between March 7, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2016.
“Defendants scheduled plaintiffs to work twelve-hour shifts on days they worked, but they often ended up working longer,” lawyers for the veterans wrote in a brief. “Despite sometimes working over 84 hours in a workweek, Plaintiffs did not receive overtime pay under defendants’ day rate plan and did not receive any guaranteed amount for weeks they worked.”
The plaintiffs argue that Brurud, one of the three named defendants, was among those in charge of the coaches’ pay and that he is individually liable, along with Check-6.
Neither Brurud, Check-6 nor their attorneys responded to requests for comment.
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In court filings, Check-6 has repeatedly denied that its coaches should be covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires overtime pay for employees. The company says the coaches were not employees but instead were independent contractors who are not covered by FLSA.
The defendants say in court records that the Act was designed to “protect unskilled laborers and minimum wage-earners, not highly paid, highly skilled consultants like the plaintiffs here.”
The filing goes on to state that the coaches were well paid, earning a flat rate of $1,000 per day, and were able to work side businesses while being a Check-6 coach.
“Overall, Check-6 provides well for Coaches through great pay and exceptional flexibility,” lawyers for the company wrote in a Feb. 2 filing. “Here, Coaches clearly are not mistreated and can protect themselves even if they were.”
The legal challenge was originally filed as a class-action lawsuit in 2016. But a federal judge decertified the class action last year, leading each of the 15 former coaches to file separate lawsuits. Those cases are ongoing.
It’s unclear whether the lawsuit will go to trial. In a Feb. 13 filing, attorneys requested a 30-day delay to pursue a “global settlement” involving all 15 former coaches.
The allegations against the firm come as Brurud, who served 21 years as a fighter pilot for the Navy and Air National Guard, is scheduled to face an Oklahoma Senate confirmation vote later this session.
The secretary of veterans affairs and the military is charged with advising the governor on veterans and military issues and providing oversight of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.
Stitt spokeswoman Donelle Harder said the governor is aware of the lawsuit and has been told, that any “remaining issues will be coming to a quick conclusion” since it no longer has class-action status.
She gave no indication that the lawsuit would threaten Brurud’s confirmation or his role as a cabinet secretary.
“Brian Brurud formed Check-6 with the mission to ensure highly skilled veterans are well compensated for the unique and valuable talents garnered from their time in the military,” Harder said. “Governor Stitt selected Brian Brurud, not only because he is a veteran who served 21 years in the U.S. Navy and Air National Guard, but also because he built an American success story over the past 10 years that has paid hundreds of veterans more than $100 million for their skilled and professional consulting work.”
Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso said he hopes to learn more about the accusations contained in the lawsuits before he and the Senate’s other eight Democrats cast their votes.
“Right now they are still only accusations and you won’t to hear the whole situation before deciding anything,” said Dossett, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Oklahoma Air National Guard. “If there is anything that comes up, it our duty to look at it.”