Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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 pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

Hillsborough sheriff agrees to pay back overtime wages to 18 former investigators 08/07/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 11:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Confederacy loses again, this time in court

    News

    TAMPA — While the Hillsborough County commission was wrestling over the future of Confederate monument at the county courthouse, a lawsuit has been playing out in court over how best to represent the Civil War across town at Veterans Memorial Park.

    Supporters of a Civil War display at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum had a brochure made to attract donations. They argue in a lawsuit that their efforts were thwarted when the park's executive committee changed their plans.
  2. Iconic Ballet Nacional de Cuba ballet will perform at Straz in May

    News

    Besides fine tobacco, Ballet Nacional de Cuba is considered by many to be the island nation's most distinctive export.

    Ballet Nacional de Cuba, one of the world's premiere ballet companies, will perform at the Straz Center in May.

 [Courtesy of Carlos Quezada]
  3. I-275 south closed in St. Pete heading towards Sunshine Skyway

    Accidents

    ST. PETERSBURG — All southbound lanes of Interstate 275 on the southern tip of Pinellas County were closed Wednesday afternoon due to a traffic crash with injuries, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  4. Bucs-Jaguars: Five things to watch Thursday in Jacksonville

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs have their second preseason game here Friday against the Jaguars, and here are five things to keep an eye on as Tampa Bay moves closer to paring its roster from 90 players to 53 by Sept. 3.

    1. AVOIDING BIG PLAYS ON DEFENSE

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) participates in training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  5. Former Rep. Corrine Brown denied new trial; to be sentenced in November

    Blogs

    JACKSONVILLE (AP)—A federal judge has denied a request for a new trial by former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was found guilty of taking money from a sham charity that was purported to be aiding poor students.

    Corrine Brown