Dept. of Labor Files Suit Against Asmussen

Trainer plans to vigorously fight allegations made in the civil action.

The Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against Steve Asmussen contending the Eclipse Award-winning trainer has failed to pay proper overtime and has not kept proper employment records.

In its U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky filing, the Department of Labor contends that such violations have occurred since "at least June 2012," involving workers at Asmussen's Churchill Downs stable. The suit was filed against Asmussen and KDE Equine, the name of Asmussen's stable for which he serves as president.

Clark Brewster, Asmussen's attorney, said the trainer plans to vigorously fight the civil suit.

"Steve is an industry leader in the rates of pay he pays his employees. Many of the employees have worked with him for many years and were never interviewed by anyone from the Department of Labor," Brewster said. "To Steve's knowledge no employee was underpaid for time worked or overtime. At no time prior to the suit did the Department of Labor ever identify anyone underpaid, if so that would have been promptly corrected."

There are no criminal charges involved in the filing.

The Department of Labor alleges in the civil filing that grooms and hot walkers who worked more than 40 hours a week did not receive pay equal to 1 1/2 times their typical hourly wages. The filing also said that records didn't include hours actually worked, pay received—including amounts attributed to overtime, and the true regular rate of pay. 

Brewster said several years ago Asmussen hired an accountant to advise him on such matters and he is confident the stable properly paid its employees.

"Several years ago Steve engaged the services of a professional accounting group to collect all employment data and prepare all payroll in accordance with state and federal regulations," Brewster said. "He is confident all regulations were complied with and will vigorously defend the suit."

With the lawsuit, the Department of Labor seeks to have the stable award back wages and liquidated damages to employees the suit says were improperly paid and, going forward, the suit seeks to have the stable pay proper overtime and keep proper records.

The lawsuit lists 100 affected employees, although no amount of money, in terms of compensation and any damages, is listed. 

The lawsuit notes that in January 2013 KDE Equine in an agreement made in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York agreed to pay $19,397 in overtime compensation and $9,699 in liquidated damages, a total of $29,096, for similar alleged violations involving 30 employees who worked in New York prior to July 21, 2012.

The suit comes on the heels of the animal rights group PETA in 2014 filing complaints with horse racing regulators in Kentucky and New York concerning the treatment of horses in the Asmussen stable as well as the stable's treatment of employees alleging violations of minimum wage laws, undocumented workers, false identification, and other related labor law violations. Those complaints followed a PETA investigation of the stable.

One of the complaints PETA filed was with the U.S. Department of Labor. It also filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, and the New York Department of Labor .

On Jan. 15 the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission cleared Asmussen and his assistant Scott Blasi of all charges brought by PETA following the release of what the regulator determined to be a highly edited online video by the animal rights group in March 2014. PETA had suggested the video showed equine abuse at the Asmussen stable in 2013 at Churchill Downs. The New York State Gaming Commission has not issued a report on its findings.