Criminal Justice

Orleans Sheriff now facing class-action suit regarding overtime pay for deputies

A federal labor lawsuit brought against Sheriff Marlin Gusman last year has been certified for class-action status, meaning hundreds of current and former deputies may be eligible to recover allegedly unpaid wages and overtime.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown ordered that notices informing class members of the suit be sent to any deputy who worked for the Sheriff’s Office between April 2012 and April 2015.

The news comes amid ongoing budget disputes between Gusman and the city, which is ultimately responsible for the Sheriff’s Office’s expenses, over the costs of implementing a federal consent decree. The latest discord focused on what Gusman characterized as a staff shortage at the city’s jail.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on how the labor lawsuit could affect consent-decree negotiations.

The notice applies to deputies who worked in a jail facility or in a courthouse. In a January report on deputy staffing submitted to the state, Gusman said the office employs 430 deputies. Court documents don’t indicate how many deputies and former deputies should expect the eligibility notices. The Sheriff’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment. The Sheriff’s potential liability should he lose is also unclear.

The Lens first reported on the lawsuit in April. It was filed by former Deputy Donald Marshall, who claimed that Gusman failed to pay deputies for time they were required to be at work before and after their shifts, a violation of federal labor laws, Marshall’s suit said.

Marshall’s lawyer, Brian Glorioso, told The Lens last year that should Marshall prevail in the suit, Gusman’s office could be responsible for far more than those hours alone.

The Sheriff’s Office, he said, “created this internal policy where they don’t pay for any increment less than 30 minutes” above a scheduled shift.

“They were not paid at all for the time, and therefore it wasn’t included in the calculation for their overtime,” he said, meaning Gusman’s office could be responsible not only for unpaid regular wages, but the time-and-a-half wages deputies should have received for overtime hours.

In response, the Sheriff’s Office has argued under a provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act applying to law enforcement, many deputies may not have actually worked enough hours to be eligible for overtime.

Furthermore, the Sheriff’s Office objected to class certification applying so broadly when job assignments vary so much. In one court filing, attorneys for the sheriff wrote that Marshall worked primarily in Criminal District Court, a job assignment that, they wrote, would not require him to stay beyond his normal shift.

Recipients of the notice have until late March to respond. The court has set a trial date for June.

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