School owner offers different explanation for asking employees to pay back unemployment money

School owner claims double-dipping reason behind asking workers for unemployment back

ROSWELL, Ga. — The owner of a Roswell private school is fighting back against allegations by his employees that he demanded they pay him their unemployment benefits.

We first told you in an exclusive Channel 2 Action News investigation that teachers and other employees at Village Montessori School say the school’s owner told them that every dollar they made more in unemployment than they would have in salary belongs to him.

The owner of Village Montessori, Dr. Louis Lee, sent employees an email, saying “it will be treated as a payroll advance and will be offset against a future paycheck.”

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For weeks we tried to reach Lee by email, phone, and even went to his new Milton mansion and visited the school. After our story aired Tuesday night, his attorney finally responded.

Lee’s attorney, Villard Bastien, sent Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray an email claiming employees are double dipping.

In a statement, Bastien said: “Employees accidentally received their regular payroll payment in addition to their unemployment benefits while they were furloughed. VMS has not, at any time, attempted to recoup an employee’s unemployment compensation.”

But when we looked at the amount Lee demanded one employee repay in an email, it was $1,306.33.

We then looked at the amount paid to that employee in unemployment benefits for the month of July. It was the exact same amount down the penny.

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Emails sent to staff over a period of months don’t mention double dipping or a payroll mistake.

Instead, in an email, the school business manager wrote: “You’ve received more in unemployment than your salary so according to Louis you will need to pay back the payroll advance.”

The Georgia Department of Labor tells us even if employees did double dip as Lee alleges, it would be between those employees and the state to resolve. It still would not be money the school or its owner is entitled to.

Cindy Jacobs is just one of several Village Montessori School current and former employees who reached out to us.

She worked as a teaching assistant at the school for more than a decade. Jacobs was told over the summer that she owed Lee thousands of dollars. She quit.

“I can’t afford to not have a paycheck. I’m not independently wealthy,” Jacobs said.

“To get furloughed and then have somebody offset your pay and have to make a sacrifice that and then to have your employer treat you that way it’s just unfair,” Michael Bavely said. He’s the father of a Village Montessori student.

The school also demanded employees provide them their personal passwords for their unemployment accounts so they could look at how much they made.

The Department of Labor tells us that is also not appropriate. Employers should not ask for and employees should not share that information with anyone.

This is now in the hands of the U.S. Department of Labor.

We showed employees how to file a complaint and now federal investigators are looking into this.

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