A proposed class and collective action alleges current and former employees of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons have been systematically denied proper wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Federal Employees Pay Act.
The 20-page lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, alleges correctional and detention officers have long been paid by the government for only the time they were scheduled to work, and not for pre- and post-shift time in which they also performed work indispensable to their jobs.
The plaintiffs, who work at the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, California, allege members of the proposed collective often work/worked more than eight hours per day and 40 hours per week without being paid all earned overtime wages, as well as night shift premiums.
“Unfortunately, Defendant has systematically violated the law by instituting a policy of only paying Plaintiffs and the Class Members for their scheduled shift time while requiring the Plaintiff and Class Members to perform work both before the start of their scheduled shifts and after the end of their scheduled shifts without pay,” the complaint alleges. “This policy is illegal on its face.”
According to the case, federal corrections and detention officers were required to perform significant pre-shift work that was “integral and indispensable” to their daily duties. The suit says necessary pre-shift work included, among other tasks, searching for contraband among inmates and detainees, providing security, counting the population, and dispensing food.
Per the suit, when federal corrections and detention officers arrived at work, they were required to undergo prior to each shift a security screening during which they would empty their pockets and bags and remove their shoes, belts, jackets and all metal objects from their person while submitting any personal items for inspection. Next, the workers would walk through a metal detector before passing through several security doors, the case says.
The plaintiffs claim federal corrections and detention officers were not paid for this work time, which took up roughly 10 to 20 minutes per day.
The lawsuit argues the time spent by federal corrections and detention employees undergoing pre-shift security screenings is compensable given the checks were necessary to the principal work performed by proposed class members.
“Indeed, Defendant required the Plaintiffs and Class Members to undergo this screening for the purposes of overall safety in the prison and to prevent the officers from inadvertently or intentionally bringing contraband into the prison centers,” the complaint elaborates.
Further, it was not possible for the federal government to eliminate pre-shift security screens without impeding the officers’ ability to perform their work, the suit goes on, as the introduction of weapons or contrabands into a prison or detention setting “would most certainly result in a less secure prison” and would harm the employees’ ability to keep things in line.
The lawsuit goes on to state federal corrections and detention employees’ pre-shift work time was only prolonged by COVID-19 screenings implemented to slow the spread of the virus. According to the case, the employees, in addition to undergoing security checks, were asked, for instance, if they had a runny nose and questions to confirm their identities.
Given the amount of pre-shift work on employees’ plates, the individuals were required to show up for their shifts with sufficient time to spare in order to undergo security and COVID-19 checks, the suit continues.
“To perform all of the necessary pre-shift work, the Plaintiffs and Class Members were required to arrive 30-45 minutes before the start of their scheduled shifts,” the suit illuminates. “However, they were not paid for any of the work they performed prior to the start of their scheduled shifts.”
From there, the lawsuit alleges workers were also required to perform “significant post-shift work” for which they were also not paid:
“At the end of their scheduled shifts, they were required to return their equipment and were required to debrief the new correctional/detention officers who were relieving them about what transpired to [sic] during the prior shifts. They reported on any problems with inmates, whether any fights had occurred, and other events during the prior shifts.
The post shift work normally lasted 10-30 minutes. Again, the Plaintiffs and Class Members were not paid for this post shift work because they were only paid for the time when their shifts were scheduled to begin and end.”
Lastly, federal corrections and detention employees were not paid proper night shift premiums required by law, the case claims. For example, one plaintiff was regularly scheduled to work from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm, and technically started working around 5:15 or 5:30 am given the amount of time pre-shift security and COVID-19 screenings took, the lawsuit says.
The suit looks to represent all current and former correctional officers and detention officers who worked for the United States of America at any time during the six-year period prior to the filing of the proposed class/collective action detailed on this page.
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