Federal regulators file complaint against Colchester, Vt. software company over pay transparency document
The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against a Colchester software company, backing up allegations made by four former employees who say they were fired after circulating a pay transparency document.
According to the complaint filed Tuesday, the four former engineers at Vermont Information Processing (VIP) in Colchester created and distributed a spreadsheet in mid-February 2022, in which they and other coworkers voluntarily shared their salary information. Within three days of creating the document, they were fired. The NLRB complaint alleges VIP fired the employees because they created the pay transparency spreadsheet, and “to discourage employees from engaging in these or other concerted activities.”
The complaint elevates a charge filed last August by the four former employees, Christopher Bendel, Gordon Dragoon, Kaleb Noble and Kestrel Swift. After a charge is filed with the NLRB, the agency investigates the allegations. If it finds enough evidence to support the charge, the agency says it then makes “every effort” to help the parties reach a settlement. If a settlement can’t be reached, the agency can file a complaint against the employer, as it did in this case. A spokesperson for the NLRB declined to comment on the case.
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“When we allow this type of conduct where employees are terminated because they've shared salary information, we're walking ourselves directly into the ability of employers to discriminate against protected classes,” said Claudine Safar, the lawyer representing the former VIP employees, in an interview Wednesday with Vermont Public. “My clients feel very firmly that that's what happened here.”
Safar said her clients are seeking back pay and other lost compensation. The complaint also requests that the former employees are offered their jobs back at VIP, and that the company hold meetings with current employees to explain their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
“When we allow this type of conduct where employees are terminated because they've shared salary information, we're walking ourselves directly into the ability of employers to discriminate against protected classes.”Claudine Safar, attorney for four former VIP employees
Stephen Ellis, a lawyer representing VIP, declined a request for an interview. In a written statement, he denied that the creation of the pay transparency document was the reason the four employees were fired.
“VIP is 100% employee-owned and its employee-owners have always been free to discuss their compensation without fear of reprisal,” Ellis said. “The NLRB Regional Office has scheduled a hearing on this claim and VIP intends to defend itself.”
VIP creates software and other tools for the beverage industry, allowing companies to track their sales and other data. The company has operated in Vermont for 50 years, and according to its website, employs nearly 600 people. Its headcount has approximately doubled since 2015, in part through acquisitions of other companies. In addition to its Colchester headquarters, VIP lists offices in California and Pennsylvania.
It’s not often that cases like this reach the complaint stage. Of the 35 unfair labor practice charges filed against Vermont employers and unions in 2022, the charge against VIP is the only one to be taken up by the NLRB. If the parties fail to reach a settlement in the coming months, the case will be heard by an administrative law judge in June. Safar, the lawyer for the four former employees, said the success rate of NLRB lawyers is high.
“That tells me that the board feels very confident about their position in this case,” she said.
Under Vermont law, employees are free to share their salary information with coworkers, and cannot be fired for doing so. Safar said she and her clients plan to “allow this process to play out before the NLRB” before taking action in state court.
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.