Burlco woman files overtime suit

In the final three years that she worked for a chain of day-care centers, Lydia Otero, 46, took care of a lot of babies and young children.

The Willingboro woman would begin her day at the Just Children's Cambridge Crossing center in Mount Laurel, work a full day there as a teacher and child-care worker, and then move on to the Just Children's Bishop's Gate location, also in Mount Laurel, where she worked primarily in the infant room.

In total, Otero claims in a lawsuit she filed last week in federal court in Camden, she was putting in 55 to 60 hours a week between the two locations.

The problem, her suit says, is that the company wasn't paying her overtime. Instead, it paid her straight time at an hourly rate of $9 to $10.25.

"Probably a disgruntled employee," said Larry Bershtein, founder of the Feasterville company. Bershtein said that he hadn't seen the suit, but added that each of Just Children's 11 locations has a separate business identification number and is a separate corporation.

"They are separate companies, so we wouldn't pay overtime," he said.

That's where Otero, a former employee, who has sued on behalf of herself and wants a court ruling that would encompass other current and former Just Children employees, disagrees.

She says in the suit that Just Children is one company judging by its website, which promotes all 11 locations, and by its unified management and payroll.

The suit argues that she was able to work at different locations without separate background checks, and without having to go through a separate interview process. According to the suit, she worked at Just Children for seven years, the last three at multiple locations.

Just Children has yet to file an answer to the suit.

"The legal issue would be who her employer is," said Philip Harvey, a professor of law and economics at Rutgers School of Law-Camden.

It would be up to the court to decide whether the companies are separate, Harvey said. If they are separate, Otero wouldn't be owed overtime.

But, if the judge determines "her employer is the organization who assigns her to these different sites, then what would count is the total time she worked and her travel time between her principal job site and other satellite work sites," he said.

Otero is being represented by Ari R. Karpf of Karpf, Karpf & Cerutti, Feasterville.


Contact Jane Von Bergen at jvonbergen@phillynews.com, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing