Denver construction workers recover more than $800,000 after facing wage theft, discrimination

Lawyers and advocates claim worker abuse is rampant on Denver-area construction sites.

Emmett Cromwell holds an American flag beneath SkyHouse Denver during a news conference announcing that SkyHouse workers reached a settlement about wage law violations, Dec. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

construction workers; wage theft; downtown; denver; colorado; denverite;
Emmett Cromwell holds an American flag beneath SkyHouse Denver during a news conference announcing that SkyHouse workers reached a settlement about wage law violations, Dec. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) construction workers; wage theft; downtown; denver; colorado; denverite;
Emmett Cromwell holds an American flag beneath SkyHouse Denver during a news conference announcing that SkyHouse workers reached a settlement about wage law violations, Dec. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Construction firms behind a new high-rise in downtown Denver held workers’ pay hostage and discriminated against women while the building was going up, said Cesar Salazar, a worker on the project.

Salazar was hired to install drywall within the 25-story SkyHouse Denver at 1776 Broadway. He was one of the workers who say they were putting in more than 40 hours of work and yet earning much less on their paychecks. Women workers, in particular, claimed they were not allowed to be higher-paid drywallers even though men without experience were given the jobs.

The Denver-based worker advocacy group Towards Justice found Salazar last year and helped him and eight others file a class action lawsuit in 2016 against The Circle Group Inc. and LAG Drywall Inc., Georgia-based construction and labor broker firms involved with SkyHouse Denver.

The workers and Towards Justice claimed victory Wednesday and announced they recovered more than $800,000 in stolen wages and damages for pervasive discrimination.

At first, Salazar and others hoped they’d receive their back pay as the job went on. Later, when he realized the money wasn’t coming, Salazar decided to just move on and work harder down the line.

“Thing’s are alright,” he remembered thinking. “I know how to sweat, so I’ll make this work.”

Cesar Salazar speaks at a news conference announcing that SkyHouse Denver workers reached a settlement about wage law violations., Dec. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) construction workers; wage theft; downtown; denver; colorado; denverite;
Cesar Salazar speaks to the media. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Towards Justice and the law firm Lowrey Parady worked with the nine complainants to file suit against LAG Drywall Inc. and The Circle Group Inc. The group settled with LAG this spring and recovered about $140,000. The Circle Group settlement, which was a class action, was approved by a federal judge in November. Through that settlement, workers recovered another $700,000.

The judge approved a 30 percent contingent fee for the legal team. The amount workers receive will depend on how many of the up to 200 people who performed drywall work for Circle Group and LAG come forward.

Juan Arellano, a representative with union organization Colorado Carpenters, said Wednesday that he wishes the SkyHouse Denver case was uncommon or unique. But, he said, he’s hearing from construction workers throughout the Denver area about worker safety issues, wage theft and other problems.

A 2014 Colorado Fiscal Institute analysis shows Coloradans are losing an estimated $750 million a year in pay and benefits from nonpayment of lawfully owed wages. Data released by the state for the first time this year shows dozens of employers are having to pay thousands of dollars for wage law violations. Denver-area carpenters recently started the Criminal Colorado campaign to identify employers not playing by the rules and victims of wage law violations.

Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter here.

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.

Adrian D. Garcia

Author: Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian D. Garcia is on business and trends for Denverite, serves as treasurer for the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and on the board of the Denver Press Club. He can be reached at agarcia@denverite.com.