Averting a potential lawsuit, Michael Jackson has agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages owed to dozens of employees at his Neverland ranch, state officials said yesterday (March

Averting a potential lawsuit, Michael Jackson has agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages owed to dozens of employees at his Neverland ranch, state officials said yesterday (March 15).

"Jackson's representatives will distribute payroll directly to the employees" today, according to a statement from the California Department of Industrial Relations.

Jackson had been given a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline -- later extended to Wednesday -- to pay up or face a lawsuit by the state. "There is no need to take legal action in this matter at this time," said Robert Jones, acting California labor commissioner.

Authorities sent a letter to Jackson's financial representatives on March 7 demanding he make good on back wages. The department said it had received complaints from at least 30 workers that they had not been paid since Dec. 19 and were owed $306,000 in wages. Jackson also was told he would have to pay about $100,000 in penalties.

However, Jones said Jackson's payroll records still were being verified. The final calculated figure for back wages and penalties would be available next week, he said.

Jackson's spokesperson, Raymone K. Bain, said she "never doubted it would be resolved." Jackson himself does not discuss financial matters because he considers them private, Bain said.

The labor department also said Jackson's representatives had indicated that they were in the process of obtaining workers compensation insurance for 69 employees of the ranch.

The state ordered all work at the 2,600-acre Santa Barbara County ranch to stop last week because the mandatory coverage for work-related injuries had lapsed. The order concerned some animal rights activists because it included keepers of Jackson's menagerie, which at times has included elephants and a giraffe.

However, employees were permitted to keep working if they were being paid by another party who had workers compensation coverage.

Investigators went to the ranch on Tuesday and determined that the stop order was being met. "Security is being handled by members of the Jackson family and a local veterinarian has put the animal caregivers on his payroll," the department statement said.

Jackson still faces a fine for allowing the coverage to lapse. It originally was estimated at $69,000. "We will be calculating and collecting the exact amount," Jones said.


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