By Bill Finley
According to a Sept. 8 filing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has agreed to pay $563,800 in back wages and damages covering 170 employees. The amount is derived from $281,900 in unpaid wages plus another $281,900 in damages.
The plaintiff in the case was Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh, who had filed a complaint against Asmussen's KED Equine LLC and Asmussen Racing Stables. The period in question runs from June 7, 2016 through at least Sept. 8, 2020, and the two parties had been litigating the dispute since 2019 before reaching an agreement.
The secretary alleges that during the time period in question, Asmussen failed to pay his employees in New York overtime wages for all hours worked and failed to make, keep and record adequate and accurate work records.
Among the 170 employees, one, Javier Rivera, is owed $44,367.84, and another, Diego Armando Pantoja, is owed $36,450.06. The average amount owed to the 170 workers is about $3,000.
Asmussen did not reply to a text seeking comment.
This is not the first time Asmussen has had to deal with the Department of Labor, which has on three occasions levied charges that the trainer has been in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Asmussen was sued by the government in 2012 and 2015 and both times it was alleged that he was paying flat wages for overtime hours worked and did not properly keep track of the amount of hours an employee had worked. He settled on both occasions.
Asmussen, who races at several different tracks at once, including the NYRA tracks, has one of the biggest training operations in the country.
Asmussen, who became he winningest North American trainer in the history of the sport during the Saratoga meet, is far from the first trainer to run afoul of the Labor Department. In 2019, Chad Brown was ordered to pay $1.6 million in back wages, liquidated damages and civil penalties for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Other New York trainers who have been ordered to make payments covering back wages include Kiaran McLaughlin, Linda Rice, Gary Contessa and Jimmy Jerkens.
The trainers who have spoken upon the matter have argued that the labor departments do not understand the unique nature of backstretch work, which may require an employee to work in the mornings, take a few hours off, and then to come back in the afternoon for short period. McLaughlin and Contessa both cited labor issues and onerous fines when announcing they had left the sport. McLaughlin is the agent for jockey Luis Saez and Contessa is back to training after a brief retirement.