Make us your home page

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 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

  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)


    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.