Pay at the Pump

The gas is cheap -- and according to dozens of Bradley Petroleum employees, so is the owner.

Marilyn Forrest managed the Bradley Petroleum filling station at 8875 Washington Street in Thornton for almost three years. She only made $6.50 an hour, but she was a conscientious person who often worked more than sixty hours a week without a day off to cover for employees who missed their shifts. Her bosses at company headquarters took notice: Although they turned down her numerous requests for a raise, they scrawled notes on the sporadic sales reports that were delivered to her station, saying things such as "Good job, Marilyn, cigarette sales are soaring."

As the manager, Forrest was responsible for depositing the store's daily earnings at North Valley Bank. The company policy was for managers to deposit Friday's earnings on Saturday morning and to leave Saturday's earnings in the bank's locked after-hours depository on Sunday. Forrest tried to follow this policy, but despite her repeated requests for a key to the depository, Bradley Petroleum owner Bradley Calkins never gave her one, she says.

So on Mondays, Forrest would leave work after her shift ended at 2:30 p.m. and head to the bank with two days' worth of deposits; if Monday was a bank holiday, she'd have to make her deposit on Tuesday, with three days' worth of earnings. The checks and loose cash were carried in green zippered bags the size of a large manila envelope.

David Lichtenstein helped Marilyn Forrest get her wages back.
David Lichtenstein helped Marilyn Forrest get her wages back.
David Lichtenstein helped Marilyn Forrest get her wages back.
David Lichtenstein helped Marilyn Forrest get her wages back.

"Brad's edict was to make the deposit immediately after my shift," Forrest says. "Anyone could watch me; it was so static -- anyone with a brain would know when I was leaving and what I was carrying."

On Monday, May 3, 1999, someone was watching.

Even though the bank was only two blocks from the gas station, Forrest didn't dare walk; that day, she was carrying more than $13,000. As she approached her car, which was parked next to the station, she noticed a man sitting on the chain-link fence separating the station from the adjacent business. The man stood up, walked toward Forrest, then asked her for the time.

"I don't have a watch. Go ask at the window," she told him, nodding toward the cashier's window at the gas station.

"What time is it?" the man asked again, inching closer. Forrest clutched the bag of money and didn't have time to answer before he said, "I'll take your money."

"No you won't," she spat back.

The man had a gun hidden in his coat sleeve, and he jammed the butt into her ribs, grabbed the money bag and ran. Forrest screamed at the cashier to call 911 and waited for the police.

After they took her statement, she called Bradley Petroleum's main office, at 105 South Cherokee Street, and left messages for Bradley Calkins and his father, George, the company's vice president. A few minutes later, George Calkins called back, and after the cashier explained what had happened, Calkins fired Forrest on the spot, claiming she'd violated company policy by carrying more than a day's worth of deposits.

Shocked and shaken, Forrest went home. On Friday -- payday -- she returned to the gas station to pick up her final check, but it wasn't there. For two days, she repeatedly left messages, but no one returned her calls. Finally, a secretary answered and told Forrest that the company had decided to withhold her paycheck for the last two weeks and two days she'd worked. Forrest filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Labor, and on June 2, she sent Bradley Petroleum a letter demanding her paycheck. After a few weeks passed with no word, Forrest started looking for an attorney, but the first five attorneys she contacted refused to take her case. And who could blame them? If Forrest prevailed, the payoff would be peanuts; if she lost, she wouldn't have enough money to pay the attorney's fees.

Forrest called a friend who worked at a nearby Sav-O-Mat store, a chain of convenience stores that are also owned by Bradley Calkins, and learned that an employee there knew of an attorney who had taken on similar cases. By the time Forrest reached David Lichtenstein, the lawyer had already handled seven cases against Bradley Petroleum and Sav-O-Mat. "The more I learned about this company, the more my ears perked up when I heard complaints from people working for them," Lichtenstein says.

In mid-July, Forrest finally heard from Bradley Petroleum, but it wasn't the response she expected. The company was serving her with papers informing her that it was suing her for $13,106 -- the amount that had been stolen.

Lichtenstein recommended filing a countersuit; otherwise, Forrest says, she would have had to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying back the stolen money. Finally, on August 3, 1999, a few days after Lichtenstein filed the counterclaim, Bradley Petroleum paid her. But even then, a week's worth of pay was missing from the check, she says. So Lichtenstein went back to court, claiming that since Bradley Petroleum had held her pay for three months, the company not only owed her wages, but up to 200 percent of her pay (the state Wage Act states that when pay is wrongfully withheld, an employer must pay penalties). In February, Bradley Petroleum settled for $3,500. "I feel vindicated since I got my wages and a little for emotional distress," Forrest says.

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