By Peter Dujardin
HAMPTON, Va. — About 25 additional officers have joined a class-action lawsuit for back overtime pay from the Hampton Police Division, bringing the total to 130 officers, the lawyer spearheading the suit said on Wednesday.
Harris Butler, with the Richmond firm of Butler Royals, said he's been filing daily notices with U.S. District Court in Newport News with the names and signatures of new officers wanting to "opt-in" to the case as plaintiffs.
There were 105 police officers named in the original lawsuit filed last week. The new total means nearly half of the force's 277 sworn officers are now suing the city.
"We want everybody who's interested in participating to participate," Butler said.
If the court certifies the case as a class-action case, a court-approved letter would be sent out to "everyone who qualifies to join the case," Butler said, which might trigger additional officers joining the suit.
Though the claim is focused mainly on back overtime for the past three years, Butler is attempting to get the court to grant a special exemption to go back even further.
Higher-ranking officers who don't get overtime are less likely to qualify for a claim, though they could file a claim based on overtime worked in the past. Though the claim generally includes those below the rank of lieutenant, at least one lieutenant has joined the suit based on past overtime when he was at a lower rank.
Also, officers no longer with the police division can qualify for a claim if they worked overtime during their time with the police force, Butler said.
Butler said that officers who don't join the lawsuit "are completely at the city's mercy" in terms of whether they will get any payout.
"It's possible that the city will agree to pay everybody irrespective of whether they're in the suit or not," Butler said. "But I suspect that anything the city offers will be less than what their ultimate court exposure would be."
In Richmond, Butler said, the city "tried to lowball the guys" who didn't join the initial 600-officer suit. That led Butler to file a second suit on behalf of about 200 officers who didn't sue the first time. "Most cities have to be compelled" to pay the officers their due, he said.
Butler said that a claim typically goes back two years from the filing for a normal claim and three years for a "willful" violation, plus any violations that occur after the claim is filed.
The suit asserts that the Hampton Police Division has failed to follow state and federal labor law regarding overtime pay. The plaintiffs contend the city acted "willfully" or "recklessly" in denying them the overtime they should have received for time they worked.
The suit asks the city to pay twice the unpaid overtime. No dollar amount is listed in the suit, but Butler said the damages are in the millions of dollars.
The claims in the suit are widely varied — including that the Hampton Police Division forced workers to take time off instead of overtime; didn't pay hours for many hours spent working "off the clock"; routinely paid patrol officers for only eight hours when 8.5 hours were worked; and didn't pay at the overtime rate for certain hours that should have been paid as overtime under a 2005 state law.
City officials have declined to comment on the case, with City Manager Mary Bunting saying the city will wait to comment until a U.S. Department of Labor investigation is complete. The city recently asked the agency to look into its pay practices.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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