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Coakley alleges drywall firm misclassified workers

A lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office alleges that a New Hampshire drywall company and its owner misclassified employees as independents contractors who worked on projects in the Bay State, some of them funded by taxpayer dollars.

According to Coakley’s press release, Universal Drywall LLC and its owner, Richard Pelletier, engaged in such practices to gain a competitive advantage over rival companies in the Bay State.

An attorney for Pelletier and the firm said that the lawsuit was a result of Coakley’s “misunderstanding” of the drywall industry.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court alleges that Universal Drywall and Pelletier violated several state laws, including the Consumer Protection Act and the False Claims Act.

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Coakley’s office said the lawsuit resulted from an investigation by its Fair Labor Division, which looked into Universal Drywall’s hiring practices at a residential construction project in Chelsea as well as publicly-funded projects at the Tahanto Regional High School in Boylston and the Douglas Intermediate School in Douglas.

Those investigations “revealed a pattern of unfair competition through the unlawful misclassification of workers at all three projects,” Coakley’s office said. The lawsuit alleges that Universal Drywall engaged in such practices to save money and underbid competitors

In a statement, Coakley added: “Employers are required to pay employees a lawful wage for each hour of work on construction projects, maintain accurate payroll records, and produce those records upon demand. We enforce these laws not only to protect workers, but to level the playing field for all businesses that play by the rules.”

William C. Saturley, of the firm Preti Flaherty, is an attorney for Universal Drywall and Pelletier.

“We believe that the attorney general misunderstands the history of the company’s employment practices and the drywall industry in general,” he said. “And we believe that it’s that confusion that has led to this dispute and the filing of this complaint.”

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Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.