Attorney General Ellison sues downtown Saint Paul’s largest landowner for scheme to avoid paying overtime to security officers
Alleges Madison Equities used subsidiaries to deprive security officers of overtime wages owed under Minnesota law; also alleges company illegally retaliated against worker who came forward
June 5, 2023 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that he has filed a lawsuit against property-management company Madison Equities, the largest landowner in downtown Saint Paul, alleging that the company used its subsidiary companies to deprive security officers of wages they were owed under Minnesota law, and that it illegally retaliated against a worker who came forward to expose these practices. Madison Equities owns and operates properties that include the First National Bank Building, the Lowry Building, the U.S. Bank Center, the Alliance Center, Park Square in downtown Saint Paul Square Court, and the Stadium Offices and Ramp.
“Part of my job is to make sure Minnesotans are paid what they’re owed and to protect them from widespread illegal practices — and wage theft is theft, period,” Attorney General Ellison said. “I’m suing Madison Equities because not only did it violate the law by not paying its security officers overtime, it also retaliated against a brave worker who came forward because he knew what they were doing to him wasn’t right.
“Most employers in Minnesota do the right thing by their employees and I thank them for it. Those that don’t should look closely at this case: Madison Equities has fought my office for years in every level of court in Minnesota just to avoid doing the right thing and I have not backed down. I will use all the tools of the law and my office to hold any employer accountable that steals wages and illegally retaliates against their workers,” Attorney General Ellison continued.”
Security officers who worked for Madison Equities accused it of using its subsidiaries to avoid paying them the overtime wages they were owed. In 2019, the Attorney General’s Office began an investigation of Madison Equities after receiving complaints from several whistleblower workers. Madison Equities resisted the Office’s investigation, refusing to provide any documents to the Office for two years until the Minnesota Supreme Court compelled Madison Equities’ compliance with the Office’s civil investigative demand (CID) in December 2021. After finally receiving the necessary information from Madison Equities after the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision and after supplemental findings by the district court, Attorney General Ellison has determined that Madison Equities had not only violated Minnesota’s overtime law, but also that Madison Equities illegally retaliated against a worker, Chris Lewis, who complained to the Office and spoke out about his experience working for Madison Equities and having filed a complaint with the Attorney General.
The Attorney General’s Office found through its investigation that Madison Equities had hired workers to provide security-officer duties at seven different properties in downtown Saint Paul. The workers were centrally supervised from Madison Equities’ downtown Saint Paul office and were subject to Madison Equities’ employee handbook. However, when Madison Equities needed officers to work more than 48 hours in a week, instead of paying workers overtime, it put officers on the payroll of one of two subsidiary companies and routinely issued the workers two different paychecks, both at the workers’ regular rate of pay with no overtime wages.
At the same time, Madison Equities sought to punish Chris Lewis, a former security officer who was the first person to come to the Attorney General’s Office with allegations. Mr. Lewis had moved on to a different job and publicized that the Attorney General’s Office had initiated an investigation into Madison Equities’ overtime practices. In response, Madison Equities sued Mr. Lewis for defamation, even though it had already received the Attorney General’s CID and knew that Mr. Lewis’ statements were truthful.
Procedural history of Attorney General’s investigation into Madison Equities
In October 2019, Attorney General Ellison’s Office served a CID on Madison Equities and certain subsidiaries that it had reason to believe were involved in the alleged overtime evasion scheme. Madison Equities moved to quash the investigation and asked the Ramsey County district court to prevent the Office from investigating it in any way. The Office responded by requesting the court to compel Madison Equities to comply with the CID.
The district court agreed with the Attorney General, upholding the CID in its entirety. Madison Equities appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals departed from Minnesota’s longstanding precedent and significantly narrowed the Attorney General’s statutory investigative authority by limiting the Office’s investigation to the specific parameters of the complaints it received.
The Attorney General sought and received review of the decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that the Court of Appeals wrongly narrowed both the scope of the specific investigation into Madison Equities and also provided future investigatory targets with a roadmap to avoid scrutiny of potentially illegal conduct. The Attorney General prevailed at the Minnesota Supreme Court and prevailed again in the district court on the issues that remained related to the Office’s investigation.
Filing a complaint as a worker
Workers who worked, or are currently working, at Madison Equities’ properties or for Madison Equities-linked companies and have worked more than 48 hours per week but did not receive overtime wages are encouraged to file a complaint online with the Attorney General’s Office, or to call (651) 296-3353 (Metro area) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota). All workers can find information about their rights as a worker by visiting the Office’s online publications on wage theft, women’s economic security, and independent contractor misclassification.