Paint Industry Giant Sued for Violating Whistleblower Law and FLSA

PPG Industries Inc., a Fortune 500 architectural paint manufacturing company, is being sued by a former employee for terminating him under false pretenses, retaliating against him for reporting unlawful practices and for failing to pay overtime.

Wallen Lawson was employed by PPG as a territory manager (TM) responsible for merchandizing PPG paint products in Lowe’s home improvement stores in the Orange County region of California, according to the complaint.

Lawson claims that TMs, including himself, were directed to “mistint” paint they were providing to Lowe’s stores – a practice that resulted in cans of paint that ordinarily would have been PPG’s responsibility to take back if not sold being considered Lowe’s responsibility to sell at a deep discount. In addition, the TMs were instructed to conduct the practice “on the down-low,” when Lowe’s associates went on break. Lawson believed the “mistint” practice was the equivalent of PPG stealing from Lowe’s.

Lawson claims he refused to “mistint” paint and that he called the PPG ethics hotline to report the scheme in April 2017, after which he was interviewed by a PPG investigator. In July 2017 the TMs were ordered to stop conducting the “mistint” practice.

Thereafter, Lawson’s supervisor, who had made these directives to him and other TMs, conducted two reviews of Lawson that resulted in him receiving failing marks. Lawson was then fired. Lawson claims the reviews were “not based on measurable benchmarks” and were entirely arbitrary.

Lawson also contends that PPG came up with a second justification for terminating him because PPG realized that the performance evaluations might not withstand scrutiny. Lawson claims he was falsely accused of  falsifying “his training records to make it appear that he was doing more work than he actually was.”

In addition, Lawson claims that he and other TMs, as a result of litigation in 2012, were considered non-exempt employees for the purposes of receiving overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California law.

PPG paid TMs for forty straight time hours and five overtime hours per week.  In reality, however, Lawson and other TMs needed a minimum of 50-55 hours per week to complete their assigned duties. If a TM tried to report more than 45 hours in a work week without authorization, which was often denied, they were subject to discipline, according to the complaint.

Lawson claims he “was discharged from his employment on the pretext that he falsified his roster.  In fact, PPG’s decision to terminate Lawson’s employment was motivated in substantial part by Lawson’s complaint to his employer about his manager’s directive to misting paint, which amounted to theft from Lowe’s, and for Lawson’s refusal to participate in the illegal activity.”

The suit seeks back wages for the overtime violations and compensatory damages. Lawson is represented by Mamta Ahluwalia of Los Angeles who filed the action in the Central District of California