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 Ms. Gunshannon and other McDonald's workers.
Ms. Gunshannon, 27, Dallas Twp., 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.
Ms. 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 Northeast 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.
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.
Ms. 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."
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.
Mr. 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.
The definition of "lawful money" is unclear, but the state Department of Labor and Industry and state banking regulators have endorsed payroll cards as a legal form of wage payment, according to the American Payroll Association, an industry trade association.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor and Industry said Thursday the department was researching the matter.
Ms. Gunshannon, who estimated the company owes her about $200, said she pursued the lawsuit because she thinks workers should have a choice in how they are paid.
"I tried to work with the company. They refused. I tried the main office in Clarks Summit. They refused," Ms. Gunshannon said. "I never activated the card. I refused the fees. I just want it to be fair."