Aspen companies pay up after wage investigation

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — The Aspen Skiing Co. and numerous other businesses in the Aspen-area hospitality industry have paid more than $500,000 to settle federal violations related to minimum wage and overtime compensation for employees after the companies were accused of using outdated federal wage guidelines.

The U.S. Department of Labor contacted 45 local service-industry businesses in 2013 about potential violations. A total of $500,000 in back wages has been paid to more than 1,000 workers, not counting penalties, as a result of the settlements.

The ski company was fined $108,796 for wage violations that affected 300 employees, company spokesman Jeff Hanle said Monday. The payments followed a yearlong investigation by the federal government.

“We accept responsibility, and we are pleased this issue is resolved and the payments are now in the hands of our employees,” Hanle wrote in an emailed statement. “It is our strong desire and commitment to pay our employees properly,” he said.

The investigation targeted businesses such as hotels and restaurants that “employ many low-wage workers,” according to a statement issued by the federal agency.

Aspen attracts celebrities and the wealthy from around the world for its skiing and ambiance.

Hanle defended the infractions as being small relative to the ski company’s size and complexity as an organization, the Aspen Daily News reported Tuesday (

Rob Ittner, a Pitkin County commissioner who owns Rustique Bistro, said he paid $1,700 following the investigation. He said he chose not to contest the accusations and pay the relatively small amount, and that his restaurant complies with overtime rules.

Officials from the labor department’s division of hours and wages contacted the businesses, asking to review employment and payroll records. Investigators also interviewed some businesses’ employees, most of them low-income workers.

Hanle said the audit revealed that the calculations the company used for overtime pay were out of federal compliance. The financial numbers were calculated using long-established payroll software and mostly concerned employees paid on a commission or tipped basis.

Cynthia Watson, southwest regional administrator for the labor department’s wage and hour division, said in a news release that the agency is “pleased that Aspen Skiing Co. workers will be paid all that is owed them for their hard work, and the company’s customers will know they are doing business with an employer that is committed to treating its workers fairly.”