Colchester software company accused of firing workers over pay transparency document
Four former employees of a Colchester software firm say they were fired earlier this year after creating a spreadsheet where workers could voluntarily share their salary information. The group filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board against their former employer, Vermont Information Processing, on Aug. 10.
Vermont Information Processing, or VIP, is an employee-owned company that creates software and other tools for beverage makers and distributors, allowing them to track their sales and other data. VIP employs nearly 600 people and has operated in Vermont for 50 years. The company said in a statement through their attorney that the four workers were fired for “lawful and appropriate reasons.”
Chris Bendel was a software developer at VIP for four years. In mid-February of this year, he said he was contacted by his co-worker Kaleb Noble, who was in line for a promotion. Noble was to be promoted to a similar position as Bendel, so he asked Bendel to share his salary. Bendel said he agreed to share his salary with Noble, then decided to take things a step further.
“I said, 'In fact, why don't we just write this down and share it, and then everyone will know.' And you know, it's a very, like, equitable thing,” Bendel said in an interview with Vermont Public.
"We wanted to make sure that everyone was getting paid what they’re worth."Chris Bendel, former VIP software developer
Bendel and Noble then created a Google spreadsheet that included their salary information and shared it with two other co-workers, Kestrel Swift and Gordon Dragoon. Swift and Dragoon also entered their salaries and shared the document with other VIP employees, Bendel said. Eventually, 27 VIP workers entered their salary information, according to Claudine Safar, the group’s attorney.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone was getting paid what they’re worth,” Bendel said.
A day after Bendel created the spreadsheet, it was accessed by a member of VIP’s management, he said. About 40 minutes later, Bendel said he was locked out of his email account and laptop, then was fired later that day. Bendel said he was told his firing was due to “poor attitudes in the past,” but said the company would not offer specific examples.
The three other employees, Noble, Kestrel Swift and Gordon Dragoon, were all fired two days later, on Feb. 18, after speaking out in opposition to Bendel’s dismissal, according to Safar, their attorney. Bendel said he was not offered a severance package, but Noble, Swift and Dragoon were, though they declined the offer, Safar said.
Besides calling the firings “lawful and appropriate,” Stephen Ellis, an attorney for VIP, said the company is “responding to their complaint through the appropriate channels and processes.” He declined further comment.
The four former VIP employees allege the company violated the National Labor Relations Act and filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB will investigate the case, and if the investigation supports the charge, the NLRB will likely seek to reach a settlement between the parties. But the board could issue a complaint against VIP if the sides can’t reach an agreement, which would send the matter to a NLRB judge.
Safar said she and her clients are considering filing a lawsuit in Vermont Superior Court against VIP as well, depending on the outcome of the NLRB process.
Under Vermont law, employees are free to share their salary information, and employers cannot require employees to refrain from sharing their salaries as a condition of employment. The law also states that an employer cannot fire or discriminate against an employee who discloses their wages or “has inquired about or discussed the wages of other employees.”
“By stifling this type of conversation, this type of protected activity, any company that terminates individuals because they've engaged in this type of protected activity is very clearly violating the law,” Safar said.
VIP has kept a relatively low public profile in Vermont for a company its size. Its headcount has doubled since 2015 as it acquired other businesses, according to the company’s website. In addition to its headquarters in Colchester, the company lists additional offices in California and Pennsylvania.
According to a recent profile by Vermont Business Magazine, the company boasts among its customers Anheuser-Busch, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Zero Gravity Craft Brewery and Citizen Cider.
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.