Richmond (Va.) Police File Overtime Lawsuit

73 current, former officers claim they weren't paid for additional hours worked


REED WILLIAMS, Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia) | Friday, September 23, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. -- A group of 73 current or former Richmond police officers filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the Police Department failed to properly compensate them for some overtime hours worked.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Richmond, asks the court to make the city provide back pay but does not specify an amount. Harris Butler, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said documents that could help determine the exact amounts owed to officers still need to be collected from the Police Department.

"By our calculations, it's a substantial amount," Butler said. "But we really need to get the details from the city to fine-tune what the amounts are."

Butler said the vast majority of the plaintiffs still work as city officers. Sixty-nine of the plaintiffs allege that Richmond violated federal law, and all 73 claim state law was broken.

The complaint alleges that the city violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay overtime for all hours worked above 171 hours in a 28-day pay cycle.

It also alleges that the city violated a 2005 state law by refusing to properly pay officers for all hours they worked between their standard 28-day pay cycle -- or 160 hours -- and the 171-hour threshold for overtime set by the Fair Labor Standards Act. That is known as "gap time."

A police spokesman referred a request for comment to the department's general counsel, who could not immediately be reached. Tammy Hawley, press secretary for Mayor Dwight C. Jones, said, "It's our policy not to comment on pending litigation."

The 2005 Virginia law was shepherded through the General Assembly by former state lawmaker Ken Cuccinelli, now the state attorney general. It says that localities employing at least 100 law-enforcement officers must pay them overtime at a rate of at least 1½ times their regular rate for the hours during the gap time.

The plaintiffs' complaint further says that the Police Department routinely deducted a daily 30-minute meal break from the hours for which officers were compensated, regardless of whether the break was taken.

The complaint adds that Police Department policy states that overtime compensation is paid only for work over 86 hours in a two-week period and not for hours between 80 and 86, and also that the city violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to maintain accurate time records.

Butler said the plaintiffs are entitled to damages equal to double the unpaid overtime, plus interest.

A similar lawsuit in Chesterfield County that alleges a violation of state law has been temporarily withdrawn, or nonsuited, so the overtime complaint can be brought before the county's Board of Supervisors.

The 80-plus Chesterfield law-enforcement officers who sued learned after filing their complaint that Virginia law required that they must first notify their local governing body of their intent to sue. They plan to do so at the board's November meeting. The plaintiffs are using the downtime to gather their time sheets for the past three years so an accurate accounting of their work hours can be presented to the supervisors.

In December, Henrico County officials said a computer payroll glitch had shortchanged hundreds of county public-safety employees of overtime. The checks reimbursing 437 police officers and other staff averaged about $2,000. Some Sheriff's Office employees and Henrico firefighters also received payments: $71,000 to 200 firefighters and $240,000 to 207 employees of the county Sheriff's Office.

A posting on the website for the Henrico Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 says that the organization does not believe the checks issued by the county addressed the problem for all officers. Butler said he and attorney Craig Curwood are representing dozens of the Henrico police officers and are trying to reach an agreement with the county.

"The city wouldn't work with us, and the county is working with us," Butler said.

Reporters Mark Bowes and Bill McKelway contributed to this report.

rwilliams@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6332

Copyright © 2011, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@timesdispatch.com 



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