For the second time in three years, trainer Steve Asmussen has been sued by the United States Department of Labor for allegedly failing to adhere to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, namely not paying overtime to hot walkers and grooms who compiled more than 40 hours of work per week at his Churchill Downs stable in Kentucky. The suit also alleges two employees of Asmussen's company, KDE Equine (doing business as Steve Asmussen Stables) were erroneously treated as exempt employees, receiving a salary rather than hourly wage.
The suit was filed on June 24 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky by Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor.
Since at least June of 2012, the suit alleges, KDE Equine and Asmussen “willfully and repeatedly violated the provisions of Sections 7 and 15 (a) (2) of the Act, 29 U.S.C., SS 207 and 215 (a) (2), by employing employees who have been engaged in commerce, or in the production of goods for commerce, for workweeks longer than 40 hours without compensating such employees for their employment in excess of such hours at rates not less than one and one-half times the regular rates at which they were employed. The employees at issue were and are employed by defendants at Churchill Downs, within the jurisdiction of this Court, as hot walkers and/or grooms.”
The suit listed the names of 100 employees that may be owed overtime wages for up to three years prior to the filing of the action against Asmussen.
In January 2013, Asmussen settled a similar lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. The consent judgment from that case required the stable to pay $29,095.97 ($19,397.31 in overtime, plus $9,698.66 in liquidated damages) to 30 employees.
Asmussen's attorney, Clark Brewster, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the Labor Department has a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the hours worked by the stable's employees. “And even if they were correct in their calculations,” Brewster told the Courier-Journal, “the amount that Steve pays is at the very highest end of all trainers for the compensation of the people in the stable that would greatly exceed minimum wage or any purported overtime by a lot.”
The suit comes a little over a year after the Asmussen stable was infiltrated by an undercover agent who compiled secretly-taped videos and other information on behalf of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA filed a number of complaints with local, state and federal officials alleging animal abuse and violations of immigration and labor practices.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission took no action after an investigation of the stable was prompted by PETA. A similar investigation by the New York State Gaming Commission is ongoing.
Asmussen is horse racing's second all-time leading trainer by wins, recording 7,064 victories from 33,754 starts since taking out his trainer's license in 1986. Horses trained by Asmussen have won nearly $230 million. He won Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer in 2008 and 2009 and was the conditioner of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and champion filly and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, among others.
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