Officers File Lawsuit Against City of Raleigh
Posted May 17, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH — A group ofRaleigh policeofficers are taking thecity of Raleighto court on accusations of violating federal labor laws.
The Raleigh Police Protective Association, which represents about 125 of the city's 700 officers, filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court, saying that Raleigh is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Raleigh police officers get compensation for working overtime. The officers involved in the suit say they are routinely asked to take unscheduled time off so they do not accumulate too many overtime hours.
When they approach 50 hours of 'comp time,' they are forced off the beat, the police union says.
"Once you get up to that so-called magic number your supervisor will come up to you and say, 'Look, Officer so-and-so, you need to find a day off in the book to take time off. Your overtime is too high,' said Jim Nidiffer, an officer with the police union. "That is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act."
"It's no secret that a lot of the officers are not happy with the current decision that the city council made," said Nidiffer. "And there's not a whole lot we can do about it."
Their federal lawsuit alleges that the city of Raleigh has not properly credited the officers for their work time. It also claims that the city did not credit officers with all work time for training and that some officers were denied overtime pay entirely and misclassified as exempt.
Dempsey Benton, Raleigh city manager, said they followed the book on police pay.
"We've described our procedures clearly in our personnel handbooks that all employees have, and we think we're following the federal requirements," Benton said.
City councilman Kieran Shanahan, who chairs the Law and Public Safety committee, said he is open to suggestions.
"For example, I think that if an officer works overtime, we ought to give him an option to collect that overtime as opposed to 'comp time.'"
While Shanahan is open to options, he said he does not like the way the lawsuit happened. He said he wished the union would have talked more instead of speaking through the lawsuit.
Police union members say they are not looking for a monetary settlement, necessarily, they just want the overtime policy changed.
Nidiffer also said that the lawsuit would have no effect on officers' job performance.
"We're still going to go out everyday and do our job," he said. "Our fellow officers depend on us for being there; the citizens of Raleigh depend on us for being there."
In recent years, similar lawsuits in other cities have been successful. Officers in Los Angeles, Houston, Milwaukee, Jackson, Mississippi and Alexandria, Virginia claimed they were cheated out of overtime. Their lawsuits resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of back pay and changes to the pay procedures in their departments.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires overtime compensation (at time and one-half) for all "hours worked" over a prescribed "threshold" (typically 40 hours per week), for "nonexempt" employees. FLSA overtime cases seek recovery for unpaid or underpaid back wages, plus double damages (called "liquidated damages") and attorneys' fees.
Entry level police officers in North Carolina make an average of $24 thousand, but officers in Durham and Fayetteville say that is not enough.
Fayetteville police officers are among the lowest-paid in the state's largest cities.
Durham police officers want a 15 percent pay increase, but Durham's proposed budget includes just a two percent raise.