Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ex-worker: Viable didn't pay wages

Source Link - Ex-worker: Viable didn't pay wages

John Yeh, president of Rockville deaf services company Viable, has been summoned to a Montgomery County District Court on a charge of allegedly failing to pay regular wages to an employee, according to court records.

The plaintiff, Mary K. Moylan of Catonsville, said this week that she was laid off in early July along with numerous other workers. Managers told her that Viable's Ellicott City and Towson call centers were being shut down, she said.

Moylan said she was not paid for several weeks and filed a claim for $7,450.

Moylan is the first known former or current Viable employee to take a claim publicly. Some former and current employees have contacted The Gazette to say they have not been paid, but have requested anonymity.

"I have a 7-year-old son to feed," said Moylan, who worked as an interpreter for Viable for about a year. She also has a grown daughter.

Moylan said she has not been able to find another job and is receiving unemployment benefits. Some interpreter agency employees have told her they will not hire anyone who had worked for Viable, she said.

Yeh could not be reached for comment. Glenn Lockhart, Viable's director of corporate communications, said via e-mail that he was leaving the company "on my own" as of Wednesday. Lockhart referred questions on the wage dispute to Mei Kennedy, a Viable employee and daughter of Yeh who said in an e-mail Wednesday that she was looking into the matter.

Privately held Viable partnered this year with a Florida company whose owners were arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the federal government. Authorities said the company billed for video-relay calls, which allow people with hearing disabilities to communicate using interpreters and Web cameras, that were not properly interpreted. Viable no longer does business with that company, Lockhart has said.

In June, federal investigators visited Viable's headquarters, and the company was "cooperating fully" with investigators, Lockhart has said. The company's attorney, Timothy Sullivan, has not returned calls seeking further comment.

Viable reported revenues of $7 million in 2007, the most recent year for which it has disclosed figures to The Gazette.

A trial on the wages charge against Yeh is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 1 in Rockville. A separate civil contract claim filed by Moylan against Yeh is scheduled to be heard Oct. 27 in a Catonsville district court.

Moylan said Viable executives told her she would be allowed medical insurance coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act or COBRA after being laid off, but that did not occur. "I had to have surgery last month," Moylan said. "Now, I don't know if I will be held accountable for those medical charges."

The employment standards unit of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's Division of Labor and Industry received a phone call recently from someone who said he worked for Viable and was not paid there lately, said Elizabeth Williams, a department spokeswoman. That person was sent forms, but they were not returned as of Tuesday, Williams said.

Yeh involved in deaf community

Yeh has long been involved with organizations that advocate for the deaf community, such as the National Asian Deaf Congress and National Deaf Business Institute. He was a trustee of Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C., institution that specializes in education for deaf people, for more than a decade.

He is also listed as chairman of the university's Board of Associates, which builds relationships with business and philanthropic leaders. A Gallaudet spokesman said Thursday that Yeh was still chairman.

In January, Deaf Life, a monthly national magazine, honored Yeh as Deaf Person of the Year. Matthew S. Moore, publisher of Deaf Life, said in an e-mail that he was "very much surprised and dismayed by recent events involving the investigation and accusations."

"I've known John Yeh for over 20 years, and while I can't say I know him well, I have always known him to be a man of honor, pride and integrity," Moore said. "When something like this happens, there's an immediate tendency to blame the top guy. Could the true situation be that an assistant, someone acting in Mr. Yeh's authority, is actually responsible for the withholding of pay or whatever other financial misdealings he's being accused of? There are some irresponsible persons in the deaf community, using their blogs to ‘publicize' the situation, accusing Mr. Yeh of crimes and fomenting hatred. I want the truth and justice, but that's not the way we're going to arrive at it."

Last year, The Gazette of Politics and Business named Yeh one of its "25 CEOs You Need to Know" and Viable as one of its "Exceptional 53" businesses and nonprofits.

Viable's offerings include videoconferencing hardware and software, and video-based and on-site interpreting services. The business had grown from a handful of employees in 2005 to more than 240, with most workers hearing-impaired. An updated employee count could not be obtained.

Viable's Facebook page contains photos of employees working at the Rockville office under the heading, "Workin' Hard at the Headquarters!" That album was created July 24. The company's last press release on its Web site was issued June 19 about Viable sponsoring the 2009 Deaf Seniors of America Conference in Las Vegas that month.