Former employee alleges West Fargo real estate company violated federal labor laws – InForum

WEST FARGO — A West Fargo real estate company is facing a wrongful termination lawsuit after claiming it fired an employee who said he violated federal labor laws.

Fargo’s Joye Knutson filed the federal civil lawsuit Nov. 3 against Epic Management. The complaint alleged that Epic retaliated against Knutson after she told her supervisors that she planned to document company activities that allegedly violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

These potential violations prevented “a number” of Epic employees from being paid the overtime they deserved, according to court documents. Knutson’s attorney, Steven Smith, declined to comment on the number of employees affected.

She is claiming $75,000 in damages.

Epic hired Knutson to begin work as the company’s vice president of human resources in late January, according to the complaint. She previously had 25 years of experience in her field.

Court documents describe Epic as a fast-growing company — it grew from 50 to 80 employees in the first few months of Knutson’s employment.

As Knutson reviewed employee records and job descriptions, she discovered that Epic had incorrectly classified some employees as “exempt” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to court documents. Exempt employees are generally those in managerial positions and are paid, while non-exempt employees are paid hourly and may qualify for overtime.

Knutson informed her supervisor, CEO Amy Hass, of the misclassifications, according to the complaint. Hass said she was unfamiliar with the terms “exempt” and “not exempt,” but said labeling employees as “employees” was “convenient,” according to the complaint.

Knutson repeatedly tried to push Epic to develop a compliance plan, according to the complaint. She told Hass it was “very urgent” to make the changes because the company was aware of the potential overtime violations, according to the complaint.

The company did nothing, according to the complaint. Hass allegedly told Knutson that Epic owner and chairman Todd Berning would “never go for it,” according to the complaint.

Knutson claimed Berning yelled at her and called her a liar during a meeting about revamping the company’s employee performance review schedule, according to the complaint. Knutson resigned but was asked to return, according to the complaint.

In June, Knutson told Hass that she planned to document her findings on misclassifications and her attempts to convince the company to fix the issue, according to the complaint. This was intended to protect Knutson from individual liability, according to the complaint.

Berning told Knutson on July 19 that her job at Epic “didn’t work out” and she was fired, according to the complaint.

Knutson has not filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor regarding the alleged overtime violations, Smith said. He declined to comment further on this story, saying the complaint speaks for itself.

A phone message left with Epic was not returned on Friday, November 11. The company has until November 24 to respond to the lawsuit.

Epic invests in, develops and manages residential and commercial properties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Its website displayed a list of 35 properties overseen by the company.

One such location includes The Lights, a mixed-use complex that houses a bar, restaurant, clinic, and other businesses in West Fargo. It also has more than 150 residential units, according to Epic’s website.

The Lights is also known for hosting outdoor concerts, which premiered in August 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. Hairball, a 1980s rock tribute band, performed there at a time when cases were at an all-time high.

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