Suit seeks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 17, 2002

OT pay

Staff Report

Superintendent John Key said a federal lawsuit claiming that Pike County Schools failed to pay overtime to support personnel came as "a shock."

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"That was a shock," Key said Tuesday of the lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Montgomery. "We didn’t have any clue about it. Our board policy restricts who can work overtime

(and) if any overtime was worked it was against board policy unless it was authorized by me."

The Pike County school district is among 30 districts targeted violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires time and

a half pay for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours in a week.

According to the Associated Press,

Eight suits were filed Friday representing 50 plaintiffs, who each claim they are owed pay for at least 144 hours of overtime worked in the last year.

"I don’t know who is involved from Pike County," said Key, who is attending a conference out of town. "I didn’t know about it until one of my board members called me and read the article in the paper."

Key said because Pike County board policy prohibits unauthorized overtime, he is concerned about the legitimacy of the claims involved in this lawsuit. "They could’ve come straight to me and to our personnel, but nobody has said a word," he said. "That would make me look at them very closely."

The Messenger was unable to obtain a copy of the lawsuit on Tuesday.

However, according to published reports, the plaintiffs are requesting the schools to pay unpaid overtime, plus damages, attorney’s fees and court costs.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Ramsey of Mobile was quoted as saying, "I hope school systems will take a look at this and do what’s right by their employees."

The suits are similar to those filed recently in Mississippi against more than 100 school systems in the state. The suits also involved cafeteria workers, bus drivers, secretaries, janitors and other support workers.

According to reports, the Alabama Association of School Boards warned about the coming litigation in its June magazine.

Mike White, an attorney for the Alabama Board of Education, said state officials advised local school superintendents in a meeting this spring that they could face similar claims to those in Mississippi. White advised superintendents to prepare pre-emptive reviews by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Dorman Walker, a Montgomery attorney who represents school boards, also encouraged employees to take claims to the Wage & Hour Division without filing lawsuits. Walker said that avoids the cost of fees and other damages.

"I think a lot of money will be wasted on fees in cases that could better be resolved in audits," Walker told the Associated Press earlier this week.

The lawsuits filed Friday are also against the school systems of Montgomery, Henry, Barbour, Bullock, Macon, Lowndes and Bulter counties.

The FLSA allows an employee to recover unpaid overtime going back three years if he or she can show that the employer willfully disregarded the law. For non-willful violations, recovery can go back two years.