Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Hillsborough sheriff agrees to pay back overtime wages to 18 former investigators

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has agreed to pay $136,032 in overtime wages to 18 child-protection investigators who took the agency to court after it refused to abide by the findings of a federal labor investigation.

The settlements, approved late last month by U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore, are the most recent turn in a class-action lawsuit filed against the Sheriff's Office in 2011. Six of the 24 plaintiffs have refused to accept the sheriff's settlement offers and continue to pursue the case.

The suit amounted to a minor revolt among the ranks of the sheriff's Child Protective Investigations Division, which is responsible for some of the county's most harrowing law-enforcement work. Investigators, who are not sworn deputies, must review accusations of physical and sexual abuse of minors and remove children from unsafe homes when necessary.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter referred questions about the case to Tony Peluso, chief legal counsel for the agency. Peluso declined to comment because of the claims that are still pending in federal court.

The lawsuit's prelude was a 2011 investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, which found the Sheriff's Office had committed overtime violations against 65 child-protection investigators. The sheriff employs roughly 85 child-protection investigators overall, according to the department's review.

A federal investigator found the employees had not been compensated for hours they worked from home and were owed $402,049. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee agreed to change office policies for tracking overtime hours but refused to pay back wages.

In a letter to the Department of Labor, Peluso wrote that "as responsible law enforcement officers and public servants," Sheriff's Office leaders "need more data regarding the allegations of unpaid wages than your department is willing or able to provide at this time."

The efforts of federal investigators to arrive at an amount owed to the uncompensated employees was not necessarily a model of precision: According to a report by Department of Labor official Martin Altabas, the $402,049 figure was calculated by applying an "average" of four overtime hours per week for each of the 65 unpaid workers.

The individual settlement amounts paid out by the Sheriff's Office in the lawsuit ranged from $19,999 to $716. The average amount per plaintiff was $7,557, a sum that is actually greater than the average pay owed per worker under the Department of Labor calculation.

Brandon lawyer Tanya O'Connor, who represented the child-protection investigators in the suit, said her clients — who are no longer employed at the Sheriff's Office — believed litigation was their only recourse after the federal investigation failed to recoup their money.

"They thought, 'The federal government doesn't even have the authority to make them do the right thing,' " O'Connor said. "There was a lot of fear and intimidation."

In an affidavit filed in the case, John Sheppard — who worked at the Sheriff's Office from 2006 through 2011 and received a $10,574 settlement — said he served on the Child Protection Investigator Advisory Council, which offered feedback on investigators' working conditions to Gee's command staff.

"At each meeting" of the council, Sheppard wrote in his sworn affidavit, "between 80 percent and 90 percent of CPIs present raised their hands indicating that they had worked overtime for which they were not compensated."

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

Comments

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David out for Monday’s game vs. Falcons

TAMPA — As if containing All-Pro Julio Jones and the Falcons offense isn’t challenging enough, the Bucs will try to do so Monday night without perhaps their top defensive players, tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.On Saturday, Bucs coa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Updated: 3 hours ago
Aquarium reopens to divers

Aquarium reopens to divers

Florida Keys News BureauVisitors to Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters dive with among indigenous Keys fish Friday in Marathon. The attraction reopened Friday after closing just before Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys on Sept. 10. Although tourism f...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Florida moves to control booming, invasive iguanas

Florida moves to control booming, invasive iguanas

MIAMI — With burrowing iguanas showing up in people’s toilets and damaging expensive sewer lines, Florida wildlife managers are stepping up efforts to control the state’s booming population of the wild, invasive reptiles. The Florida Fish and Wildlif...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Fan helps fund Miami Stadium’s historic marker

MIAMI — For thousands of kids who grew up in Miami, going to the old Miami Stadium in the Allapattah neighborhood was a part of coming of age. Opened on Aug. 31, 1949, with a game between the Miami Sun Sox and Havana Cubans, two Class B Florida Inter...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Florida man sues for $2.8 million fishing tournament prize money

Florida man sues for $2.8 million fishing tournament prize money

OCEAN CITY, Md. — Phil Heasley of Naples caught the fish of his life, but the $2.8 million in tournament prize money got away. Heasley reeled in a 6-foot white marlin last year off Maryland’s coast. But in a sign of how concerned some big money tour...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Two die in head-on crash on Gunn Highway in Odessa

ODESSA — Hillsborough County deputies are investigating a head-on crash on Gunn Highway that killed two and sent a child to the hospital Saturday afternoon.About 12: 45 p.m., Terry Lee Bronschidle, 70, of Tampa was driving his Chevy Traverse south on...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

DENVER — There might be one team in hockey hotter than the Lightning.It is Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, Syracuse.The Crunch has won 10 straight after Friday’s victory over Providence. Why is this important? While the AHL is a developmental league, the ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

TAMPA — Three firefighters were injured early Saturday morning while battling a fire at a strip mall on W Waters Avenue, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.Firefighters said the blaze started around 2:45 p.m. in the attic of L.A. Nail Supply, located at ...
Updated: 4 hours ago