Corrections officers sue Jefferson County for overtime during Hurricane Ike

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Feb. 10, 2011, 2:39am

Jefferson County corrections officers have filed a lawsuit against the county to obtain compensation for the overtime hours they worked during Hurricane Ike in September 2008.

The Jefferson County Association of Deputy Sheriffs and Corrections Officers and Jeffrey T. Bingham filed suit against Jefferson County on Sept. 7 in the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division.

According to the lawsuit, the corrections officers were ordered in writing by administration to be at the downtown jail facility during the curfew hours between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., regardless of their regularly scheduled shift hours, or they would face termination. The order was in effect from Sept. 12 until Sept. 20, 2008.

Shortly after the expiration of the order, the county issued a Payroll Information Memorandum which listed the payroll schedule rates for corrections officers from Sept. 7 through Oct. 4, 2008.

The memo stated the officers were to receive pay for 24 hours for each of the first two days following the storm. Thereafter, their pay rate was categorized as either "premium pay" or "emergency worked."

The officers allege that during the time they were confined to the Jefferson County Courthouse by written order, they were not paid for more than 16 hours per day, even though many of the officers were at the courthouse for longer periods of time because of the written order.

After the officers learned of the county's decision not to pay for their time, they filed a class action contract grievance for the extra pay.

A third-party arbiter held a hearing on the issue and ruled that the county owed additional pay to the corrections officers under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

However, the arbiter did not have jurisdiction to award any additional pay. Despite the arbiter's ruling, the county has not paid any additional amount, the suit claims.

The federal lawsuit accuses Jefferson County of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The plaintiffs are asking the court for an award of the compensation plus attorney's fees, court costs and interest.

The employees are represented by Mitch Adams of Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas in Beaumont.

Jury trial requested.

U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield is assigned to the case.

Case No. 1:11-cv-00048

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