A Chicago-based security company misclassified some 169 guards as independent contractors, the US Department of Labor alleged in a lawsuit filed Sept. 29.

The agency filed the lawsuit against the company, American Public Defense Inc., and Lewis Brown, its owner and president, to recover $473,212 in back wages and damages. Its investigation found the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards act by misclassifying guards as independent contractors and illegally deducted fines from workers’ pay for taking breaks, being late, not giving two weeks’ notice before quitting and other actions the company viewed as infractions, according to the DOL.

The illegal deductions caused the employer to pay some workers less than minimum wage and not pay overtime when required, according to investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division. The division also alleges the security company sometimes failed to issue any payroll checks and, by misclassifying guards as independent contractors, denied them overtime and the payment of payroll deductions and other benefits.

The complaint seeks $22,558, representing minimum wages owed to 106 employees, $214,047 in overtime back wages owed to 169 employees and an equal amount in liquidated damages.

The agency has previously identified Fair Labor Standards Act violations by the company and Lewis Brown on two occasions.

“By assessing employees with ‘fines’ for taking breaks, American Public Defense and its owner were violating federal wage laws blatantly,” Wage and Hour Division District Director Tom Gauza said in a press release. “After we found violations in two previous investigations, American Public Defense and its owner agreed to comply with the law in the future, so the company and management are aware of the resources available to them to ensure compliance with the law and yet continue to violate it.”

American Public Defense Inc. provides armed and unarmed security guards for commercial clients in Chicago and the surrounding metropolitan area. SIA attempted to reach the company for comment but was unable to find a website or contact information for American Public Defense Inc. in Chicago.