McDonald’s Franchisee Owners Paying Employees With Payroll Debit-Cards

imageBy Bob Kalinowski

She spent her days serving up Happy Meals, but when it came time to get paid, Natalie Gunshannon says a local McDonald’s franchisee gave her an unhappy deal.

The Shavertown McDonald’s forces workers to be paid only one way: with a payroll debit card that burdens workers with hefty fees to obtain their hard-earned cash, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of Gunshannon and other McDonald’s workers.

Gunshannon and an untold number of current and former employees had no option to receive a traditional paycheck or get paid by direct deposit, she and her attorneys said in the class-action against franchise owners Albert and Carol Mueller of Clarks Summit.

“I’m looking for the pay I am owed and for them to understand there has to be an option,” Gunshannon, 27, said Thursday outside her Dallas Township residence.

Gunshannon, who worked at the Shavertown McDonald’s for a month after being hired April 24, refused to activate the payroll card after reviewing the fee structure, quit the job and reached out to an attorney to see if the practice was legal.

Attorney Michael J. Cefalo of West Pittston and his law firm then drafted a class-action lawsuit against the Muellers, who own 15 other McDonald’s locations throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Filed in Luzerne County Court, the suit accused the Muellers and their limited partnership of violating the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Act and unlawfully boosting profits with the payroll card “scheme.”

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages on behalf of employees and asks a judge to award punitive damages against the company for its “ill-gotten gains contrary to justice, equity, good conscience and Pennsylvania law.”

Beth Dal Santo, a spokeswoman for an association of McDonald’s franchisees in the region, said the Muellers had not been served with the lawsuit Thursday and would not comment.

The couple, who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany separately in the 1950s, were honored by the Salvation Army in 2011 for their support of that organization and the Ronald McDonald House in Scranton. Their business practices, Gunshannon said, were much less charitable.

Gunshannon said the manager of the Muellers’ Shavertown location refused to issue her a paper paycheck or pay via direct deposit, saying, “We only pay on the card.” An executive working for the Muellers, she said, gave her an ultimatum: “If you don’t activate the card, there is no way for us to pay you. You can activate the card or we can’t pay you.”

The J.P. Morgan Chase payroll card carries fees for nearly every type of transaction, according to the lawsuit, including a $1.50 charge for ATM withdrawals, $5 for over-the-counter cash withdrawals, $1 to check the balance, 75 cents per online bill payment and $10 per month if the card is left inactive for more than three months.

A spokeswoman for the McDonald’s Corp., which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not respond to a telephone message and emailed questions Thursday about the company’s guidelines for how its franchisees should pay employees.

Cefalo said they filed the lawsuit on behalf of all current and former employees who were paid with payroll cards without being given the option of receiving their wages in cash or via a check. State law, he said, requires wages be paid in “lawful money” or with a check.

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