News Column

Debit Card Usage Being Probed

June 25, 2013
debit card

The U.S. Attorney's Office has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to look into the use of debit cards to pay employees to determine if federal action is appropriate.

"At this point it is too soon to tell what specific action, if any, there would be," said Heidi Havens, department spokeswoman.

The action was sparked by a lawsuit filed against the owners of a local McDonald's who paid an employee, Natalie Gunshannon, a 27-year-old single mother with a debit card, with bank fees that allegedly include $1 to check her balance, $1.50 to withdraw cash, and $15 to replace a lost card. Attorney Michael Cefalo of West Pittston is representing Gunshannon in the class-action suit.

Havens would not comment on specifically what the DOJ has asked the labor department to look into.

Gunshannon, who believes she was paid $7.44 per hour, said she refused to access the debit card because the fee deductions could bring her hourly rate below the federally-mandated $7.25 per hour.

A spokesperson at the Department of Labor said if the fees do not result in lowering the employee's wages below $7.25 per hour, the use of the debit does not violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Gunshannon said the debit card was the only option she had to receive her wages, so she decided to quit her job rather than incur the fees. She said she asked to be paid by paper check or direct deposit, but was denied.

In her suit, Gunshannon names franchise owners Albert and Carol Mueller of Clarks Summit, who employ about 800 people at 16 McDonald's restaurants in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Cefalo said the debit card method "squeezes the most vulnerable" and is an example of "corporate greed."

Mike Fusco, spokesman for JP Morgan Chase in New York City, said he couldn't comment on any specific case, but he did say the company provides the debit cards as an option to receive wages.

"Most clients offer other methods of payment like paper checks or direct deposit," Fusco said.

Fusco also said there are ways for employees to access their cash for free without incurring any charges. He said the debit card method offers the employer "much more efficiency and fraud protection" than paper checks.

Attorney Matthew Hank of Philadelphia, who represents the Muellers, did not return several messages left at his office.

Cefalo said the case has taken on "several legs" and he has assigned investigators to look into allegations made by many others who have learned of the class-action suit.

"We want to know what the relationship is between Chase and the Muellers," Cefalo said.

Gunshannon, of Dallas Township, worked at McDonald's Restaurant on the Dallas Highway from April 24 to May 15. When she received her first paycheck, a Chase Bank debit card was enclosed with instructions on how to use it and the fees attached.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages and asks for punitive, compensatory, and liquidated damages, plus legal fees and litigation costs against the company for its "ill-gotten gains contrary to justice, equity, good conscience and Pennsylvania law."

Source: (c)2013 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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