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State Attorney General Keith Ellison is suing Madison Equities, downtown St. Paul's largest landowner, alleging that the property management company has deprived several security officers of their pay, he announced Monday.

Ellison's suit also alleges that when one of those workers stepped forward, Madison Equities retaliated against him.

"Part of my job is to make sure Minnesotans are paid what they're owed and to protect them from widespread illegal practices — and wage theft is theft, period," the attorney general said in a statement. "I'm suing Madison Equities because not only did it violate the law by not paying its security officers overtime, it also retaliated against a brave worker who came forward because he knew what they were doing to him wasn't right. "

Jim Crockarell, head of Madison Equities, declined to comment about the suit when reached by phone Monday afternoon. Crockarell said he would have his attorney return the call, but that had not happened as of early Monday evening.

The dispute between Ellison and Madison Equities goes back several years and stems from complaints made by four security guards who said they were denied overtime pay in 2019 by being ordered to clock-in their hours under different company names.

Madison Equities, which owns more than a dozen buildings in St. Paul, including the First National Bank Building, U.S. Bank Center and Alliance Bank Center — has denied wrongdoing. Various limited liability companies own individual buildings within its portfolio and so workers deal with each separately, the firm has argued.

In announcing his lawsuit Monday, Ellison said he began investigating Madison Equities after receiving complaints from several whistleblower workers. The company fought his investigation, Ellison said, until the state Supreme Court in 2021 compelled the company to comply with his office's civil investigative demand.

After receiving that information from Madison Equities and after supplemental findings by the District Court, Ellison said he determined that Madison Equities violated state overtime law and that it had also retaliated against a worker who complained to Ellison's office.

"Most employers in Minnesota do the right thing by their employees and I thank them for it," Ellison said Monday. "Those that don't should look closely at this case: Madison Equities has fought my office for years in every level of court in Minnesota just to avoid doing the right thing and I have not backed down. I will use all the tools of the law and my office to hold any employer accountable that steals wages and illegally retaliates against their workers."

Staff writer Dee DePass contributed to this report.