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A man who complained about a Lincoln business’ pay practices and was chased out of its office by a manager with a stun gun has been awarded $5,600 in back pay by the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission.

Midwest Demolition Co. is appealing the decision, which says the manager, John Zapata, violated Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act provisions protecting whistle- blowers.

Theron Chapman had questioned the demolition company's practice of docking paychecks for showing up late or missing work, as well as not paying overtime and not withholding federal income taxes, according to the Equal Opportunity Commission final order in the case.

While living at the People’s City Mission in June 2011, Chapman was told he should contact Zapata because Midwest Demolition often hires people from there, commission files say.

He applied, got a job making $8 an hour and filled out paperwork to have federal tax taken out of his check. Chapman worked at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota for eight weeks, driving a sky lift, cutting concrete, using a jackhammer, taking down walls and removing sheathing, according to the files.

Midwest Demolition provided all the tools, rides to and from work and housing, yet Chapman’s pay stubs all said he was an independent contractor.

He was told he would be fined if he didn’t show up to work on time, and was twice docked $100. He complained about the fines and told the company he wanted taxes withheld from his checks, which was not being done.

On July 29, 2011, after having worked 15 hours the day before in Omaha, Chapman went to the Midwest Demolition's Lincoln office to get his paycheck. He noticed another $100 had been docked from it, this time, he was told, for missing a 5 a.m. ride a few days earlier to do work in Lawrence, Kan., commission files say.

When he complained, Zapata tried to snatch the check from Chapman and told Chapman to sue him.

Zapata then told Chapman to stay put, went back to his office and came back with a stun gun and chased Chapman out of the building, according to commission files. Zapata alleged Chapman attacked him, but Hearing Examiner William A. Tringe Jr. found the claim was not credible.

Tringe concluded Chapman met the definition of an employee and was fired after complaining about illegal pay practices, which amounted to discrimination and retaliation against a whistle-blower.

Chapman was awarded $5,600 in back pay, plus attorney fees of $5,172.

Midwest Demolition on Monday filed a civil suit in Lancaster County District Court appealing the decision.

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Reach Nicholas Bergin at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSBergin.

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