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Judge Puts Trump’s Wage Chief on Notice for Revoking Staff Power

June 20, 2019, 10:32 AM

The Trump administration’s new wage-hour administrator is facing judicial scrutiny over her recent decision to remove investigative authority from subordinates, according to a Labor Department court filing obtained by Bloomberg Law.

A DOL Administrative Law Judge told attorneys for the department’s Wage and Hour Division to be prepared to explain whether Administrator Cheryl Stanton has the authority to revoke “investigative powers at her sole discretion” that were previously delegated to her staff. The June 19 hearing order, retrieved via Freedom of Information Act request, cites a Bloomberg Law report earlier the same day detailing Stanton’s decision to rescind certain authority that had been given to investigators across the country.

“This article should be brought to the attention of any witness(es) who may testify” and “I expect any witness(es) testifying on behalf of the Administrator to be in a position to answer” related questions, wrote ALJ Steven D. Bell. The hearing is set for June 24.

The department’s in-house judge is seeking answers about the revocation as it relates to a wage and hour case against Broadgate, Inc., a technology staffing and consulting firm. The inquiry may be limited to that case, but the judge’s questioning will likely add to the criticism Stanton faces for sending a blanket revocation that alarmed the agency’s field staff. In the six weeks since the order, Stanton’s policy has slowed recovery of back pay for workers and frozen the agency’s processing of time-sensitive visa applications for victims of workplace crimes.

“As part of my due diligence as the head of a large government agency, I thought it was prudent to understand the authorities delegated from the Administrator to others in the agency,” Stanton told Bloomberg Law of the move in a June 18 email.

A Labor Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Bell’s order, saying the litigation is still pending.

Actions by Others Are ‘Invalid’

Ten days after assuming her post, Stanton on May 9 rescinded all authority that had been delegated to her subordinates, ensuring the former business lawyer has the final say on many of the minimum wage, overtime pay, and family leave investigations that her agency’s vast bureaucracy handles in a given week, according to DOL sources.

“Earlier this week I asked that each of you inform me by close of business tomorrow all delegations of the Administrator’s authority in any form to others including but not limited to signatures,” Stanton wrote to her senior WHD assistants, according to an email obtained by Bloomberg Law. “Effective immediately and going forward all such delegations are revoked and any such actions taken by others besides me are invalid.”

Judge Bell said he may ask witnesses questions about “the purported revocation of the investigative powers of Wage and Hour investigators.”

Sources said Stanton has begun restoring some of the revoked powers on a piecemeal basis.

The Office of Administrative Law Judges is the department’s internal trial court, where businesses and individuals may appeal the decisions of various DOL agencies, including the Wage and Hour Division. ALJ decisions can then be appealed in federal court.

Bell’s original June 6 order setting the hearing on administrator delegation indicates that Patricia Davidson, the division’s deputy administrator for national operations and most senior career official, will be testifying on behalf of the administrator at the hearing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at; Terence Hyland at