After woman sued Back Mountain franchise, news surfaces of debit card probe in N.Y.

Last updated: July 04. 2013 12:30AM - 6091 Views

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WEST PITTSTON — The lawsuit filed by a Dallas Township woman against an area McDonald’s Restaurant franchisee has garnered national attention, and now the New York Attorney General’s Office said it is looking at more than 20 businesses that supposedly use ATM-type cards with fees to pay workers.

Attorney Michael Cefalo of West Pittston, who represents Natalie Gunshannon and others in a class-action lawsuit filed last week against Albert and Carol Mueller, McDonald’s franchise holders from Clarks Summit, said the case might lead to national legislation.

“Now that the New York Attorney General is investigating some of the largest employers over the use of ATM/style cards to pay their employees, our case has taken on a different flavor,” Cefalo said. “We now have a separate government agency who will be looking into the relationships of employers and card-issuers.”

Cefalo noted an Internet story cited a New York Times article that highlighted the Gunshannon case. Gunshannon worked at the McDonald’s in Shavertown. She, through the Cefalo & Associates law firm, filed the class action on behalf of employees who were forced to use a payroll card issued by J.P. Morgan Chase.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the Muellers have informed their 700 employees in their 16 stores that they now have two other options to be paid — paper check or direct deposit — in addition to the debit cards, Cefalo said. “Since they offered options, the flood-gates have opened,” Cefalo said. “Our firm is being bombarded with so many calls and emails, the staff of 30-plus cannot keep up.”

More than 200 people have contacted the law firm regarding the use of debit cards for payment of wages, he said.

“This issue is getting so big that I expect legislation — either national or state — to come out of it,” Cefalo said. “And that would make me happy and my client as well. That would assure that this doesn’t happen again.”

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced it sent letters to companies including Wendy’s Co., Costco Wholesale Corp., Dollar Tree Inc., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Home Depot Inc., Darden Restaurants Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The AP article states the letters request documents related to the payroll card systems used by each business so that they can ensure the companies comply with laws that try to keep workers from being beset by fees for using the cards. It said nearly 4 million U.S. households, or 3.2 percent, have someone receiving wages on a payroll card, according to a 2011 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Earlier this week Christina Mueller-Curran, franchise owner-operator and daughter of Albert and Carol Mueller, said the decision to offer other options of pay had nothing to do with the lawsuit.

The debit card carries with it several fees, and Gunshannon felt she could receive less than minimum wage if she used the debit card and incurred the fees. She opted to quit her job. Gunshannon, a 27-year-old single mother, said she is looking for another job.

In Luzerne County, the Muellers operate McDonald’s eateries in Wyoming, Shavertown, Mountain Top and Hanover Township.

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