The state department of labor denied an appeal by a former Whitefish Christian ministry challenging an order to pay more than $100,000 in back wages and penalties. The state rejected Potter’s Field Ministries’ argument that former workers had donated unpaid time as an “act of god.”
Hope Greenburg worked at Potter’s Field Ministries’ Mudman Burgers chain in the Flathead Valley. The Montana Department of Labor and Industry says she is among a handful of former employees owed tens of thousands of dollars in back pay.
"I’m not surprised that they have decided again that we’re owed the money, because we were obviously wronged in wages," Greenburg said.
The Department of Labor and Industry on Jan. 15 issued decisions in five wage claim cases Potter’s Field had appealed last year. It found that the nonprofit owes former employees roughly $118,000 in unpaid wages, penalties and undistributed tips, which Potter's Field now argues were donations from patrons — a claim state officials say is false.
"I was able to find pictures where the tip jars, like, clearly said 'tips' on them."
Potter’s Field in-house council Sharon DiMuro did not return calls and texts for comment.
In mid-2020, Labor and Industry found that Potter’s Field owed six workers a combined $150,000, but a department spokesperson says two of those workers dropped their claims after Potter’s Field appealed.
Another worker’s claim was initially found invalid, but upon appeal state officials now say he too is owed back pay.
Potter’s Field has argued that those who performed work for the nonprofit were volunteers or interns who knew what they were doing when they signed agreements asking them to work 60-plus hour weeks for as little as $300 a month. State officials found those agreements to violate state and federal labor laws.
In its appeals, Potter’s Field shifted its arguments, saying that former workers were “serving God as an act of sacrifice and worship." But the Department of Labor and Industry denied that argument. According to the labor department’s findings, Potter’s Field provided no evidence that showed employees’ work to be religious.
Former Mudman employee Connor Strong says he is grateful the Ministries' appeals failed.
“It’s relieving that now for a second time, we know we’re not crazy," he said.
Potter’s Field could appeal the labor department’s decisions again. It is unclear if it will do so.
Correction, 02/01/21: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly calculated the total amount of back wages and penalties the state said Potter’s Field owed former employees. Potter’s Field owes five former workers roughly $118,000.