Title 37
Public Property and Works

Chapter 13
Labor and Payment of Debts by Contractors

R.I. Gen. Laws § 37-13-17

§ 37-13-17. Private right of action to collect wages or benefits.

(a) An employee or former employee, or any organization representing such an employee or former employee, of a contractor or subcontractor may bring a civil action for a violation of § 37-13-7 for appropriate injunctive relief, or actual damages, or both within three (3) years after the occurrence of the alleged violation. An action commenced pursuant to this section, may be brought in the superior court for the county where the alleged violation occurred, the county where the complainant resides, or the county where the person against whom in the civil complaint is filed resides or has their principal place of business. Any contractor or subcontractor who violates the provisions of § 37-13-7 shall be liable to the affected employee or employees in the amount of unpaid wages or benefits, plus interest. A civil action filed in court under this section may be instituted instead of, but not in addition to the director of labor and training enforcement procedures authorized by § 37-13-14.1, provided the civil action is filed prior to the date the director of labor and training issues notice of an administrative hearing.

(b) An employer’s responsibility and liability is solely for its own employees.

(c) An action instituted pursuant to this section may be brought by one or more employees or former employees on behalf of himself/herself or themselves and other employees similarly situated, except that no employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he/she gives his/her consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.

(d) In an action filed under this section in which the plaintiff prevails, the court shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff, require reasonable attorneys’ fees and the costs of the action to be paid by the defendant.

(e) The court in an action filed under this section shall award affected employees or former employees liquidated damages in an amount equal to two (2) times the amount of unpaid wages or benefits owed. Unpaid fringe benefit contributions owed pursuant to this section in any form shall be paid to the appropriate benefit fund, however, in the absence of an appropriate fund the benefit shall be paid directly to the individual.

(f) The filing of a civil action under this section shall not preclude the director of labor and training from referring a matter to the attorney general as provided in § 37-13-14.1(b), from prohibiting a contractor or subcontractor from bidding on or otherwise participating in contracts as provided in § 37-13-14.1(d), (e) and (h), or from prohibiting termination of work on failure to pay agreed wages pursuant to § 37-13-16.

(g) Any person, firm, or corporation found to have willfully made a false or fraudulent representation in connection with wage obligations owed on a contract shall be required to pay a civil penalty to the department of labor and training in an amount of no less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) and not greater than three thousand dollars ($3,000) per representation. Such penalties shall be recoverable in civil actions filed pursuant to this section. For purposes of this subsection “willfully” shall mean representations that are known to be false, or representations made with deliberate ignorance or reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.

(h) An employer shall not discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate against an employee, or former employee, regarding compensation terms, conditions, locations or privileges of employment because the employee or former employee, or a person or organization acting on his or her behalf:

(1) Reports or makes a complaint under this section; or otherwise asserts his or her rights under this section; and/or

(2) Participates in any investigation, hearing or inquiry held by the director of labor and training under § 37-13-14.1. In the event a contractor or subcontractor retaliates or discriminates against an employee in violation of this section, the affected employee may file an action in any court of competent jurisdiction and the court shall order reinstatement and/or restitution of the affected employee, as appropriate, with back pay to the date of the violation, and an additional amount in liquidated damages equal to two (2) times the amount of back pay and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

(i) If any one or more subsections of this section shall for any reason be adjudged unconstitutional or otherwise invalid, the judgment shall not affect, impair, or invalidate the remaining subsections.

History of Section.
P.L. 2004, ch. 597, § 1.