U.S. Labor Department investigates Texas police over unpaid overtime

Police union says lawsuit likely to come


By Philip Jankowski
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas  — The U.S. Labor Department has opened an investigation into the Austin Police Department over unpaid overtime, which the police union says will likely to lead to a lawsuit.

Documents obtained by the American-Statesman showed that the investigation and potential lawsuit is in regards to Austin police officers' practice of showing up early to work in order to be ready for when their shifts officially start.

The Labor Department confirmed its Wage and Hour Division is looking into complaints against the Police Department but would comment no further.

City Manager Marc Ott notified Austin City Council members in a memo Wednesday that the Labor Department had contacted the city's law department about concerns over work performed by some police officers prior to the start of their patrol shifts.

Ott's memo was issued just hours after Austin Police Association President Kenneth Casaday sent out an urgent news bulletin to union members notifying them that a lawsuit was in the works.

"To protect officer's (sic) interests, a lawsuit will be likely," Casaday wrote. "Officers will need to decide if they would like to sign on to this lawsuit or not."

When contacted by the Statesman, Casaday said union lawyers had advised him not to discuss the issue. He said the union will hold meetings over the next month to gather officers' input and allow their attorneys to explain options, Casaday said.

"We're just looking into all possibilities and, until I talk to our members, I can't say anything," Casaday said.

The bulletin said that any suit would be filed with the intention of settling out of court. Lawsuits over police overtime have resulted in settlements in a range of several hundred thousands of dollars to the millions. In 2014, the city of Norfolk, Va., settled with its police officers for $3.2 million.

The Austin police union has met with the city's labor relations office at least once in the past over concerns with overtime pay, according to a city statement.

"We're currently reviewing the matter," a statement from the city said. "We have a good working relationship with the APA and we're optimistic we will be able to bring this to a positive resolution."

The Labor Department's investigation is looking into alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes minimum wage and overtime pay.

Former Austin police officer Jermaine Hopkins said the Labor Department's investigation stemmed from complaints he claims contributed to the Police Department firing him.

"Because the City/APD still owe me wages for work performed, and the Department of Labor is still investigating those claims, I really cannot go into detail about it," Hopkins said when reached via email Wednesday.

Most recently, action by Hopkins led a city ethics commission to sustain a complaint of an ethics violation against Police Chief Art Acevedo for not filing a financial statement on time.

The Police Department fired Hopkins in October for not following orders, according to a disciplinary memo. Hopkins has already had one previous suspension overturned and is in the process of attempting to be reinstated.

Copyright 2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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