Employees’ Claim Against Employer for Unpaid Wages Dismissed Pursuant to Iqbal and Twombly

In Eric Johnson, et al, v. Prospect Waterproofing Company, et al., Civil Action No. 11-0077, (D.D.C. Sept. 21, 2011), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the plaintiffs' suit against their employer for unpaid wages for failing to state a claim pursuant to Ashcraft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) and Alt. Corp. v Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), on the basis that Davis-Bacon Act merely establishes an administrative process for the recovery of unpaid wages, does not give rise to a private right of action, and that it is impermissible to try to circumvent the Act by asserting that the claims governed by the Act arise under state law.

Plaintiffs were hired as roofers by Prospect Waterproofing Company to work on various federally-funded or federally-assisted construction projects in the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs contend that projects were subject to the Davis-Bacon Act, 40 U.S.C. sec. 3141, et seq., which requires employers to pay prevailing wage rates for certain categories of jobs in the community, and that defendants failed or refused to pay them the prevailing wage rate established under the Act. Plaintiffs sought to recover the difference between the Davis-Bacon prevailing wages allegedly owed and the wages defendants' actually paid.

Plaintiffs' complaint alleged that three state law causes of action arise out of defendants' failure to compensate plaintiffs according to the prevailing Davis-Bacon rate: (1) violation of the D.C. Wage Payment and Collection Law; (2) violation of the D.C. Minimum Wage Act; and (3) a common law quantum meruit claim based upon the defendants retention of the difference between the prevailing wage and what was actually paid to plaintiffs.

The Davis-Bacon Act requires all laborer and mechanics working on federally-funded construction projects to be paid not less than the prevailing wage in the locality where the work is performed. 40 U.S.C. sec. 3142. Every contract entered into pursuant to the Act must stipulate that the contractor shall pay the established wages and, if the contractor fails to pay the minimum wages specified, that the government's contracting officer may withhold so much of the accrued payment as necessary to pay the laborers and mechanics the difference between the wage rate and the wages paid. 40 U.S.C. sec. 3142(c)(1) and (3). The Act goes on to provide that "if the accrued payments withheld under the terms of the contract are insufficient to reimburse" the laborers for the wages owed, those "laborers and mechanics have the same right to a civil action and intervene against the contractor [] as is conferred by law on persons furnishing labor or materials." 40 U.S.C. sec. 3144(a)(2). "But, this purely financial remedy is available only after there has been an administrative determination that some money is owed and that insufficient funds have been withheld to compensate the affected laborer." U.S. ex rel. Bradbury v. TLT Constr. Corp., 138 F. Supp. 2d 237, 241 (D.R.I. 2001).

After an analysis and recitation of cases from other districts that have tackled this issue, the Court concluded that the Act did not provide a private right of action to recover unpaid wages.
Even though the Act did not confer a private right of action, plaintiffs' insisted that their suit could proceed because they were not seeking relief under the Act, but instead under D.C. law, which created a valid claim for unpaid wages governed by the Davis-Bacon Act under D.C.'s Wage Payment and Collection Law and Minimum Wage Act. However, the Court ruled that plaintiffs were merely trying to bypass the exclusive administrative remedies of the Davis-Bacon Act by bringing state law and common law claims, even though the complaint makes clear that plaintiffs' claims are founded exclusively on the Act. Consequently, the Court concluded that "plaintiffs' claims are clearly an impermissible end run around the Davis-Bacon Act" and that allowing such a claim would severely undermine the specific remedial scheme established by Congress. Therefore, since no private right of action exists under the Davis-Bacon Act, plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and the Court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint.