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South Carolina Appellate Court Upholds Prisoner’s Wage Suit

by Derek Gilna

South Carolina state prisoner Fred Gatewood, who worked in a prison industries job, thought he was to be paid $4.00 per hour subject to various state-mandated deductions, but in fact received less. He filed wage-related grievances, arguing his pay was subject to incorrect deductions. An Administrative Law Court (ALC) upheld the denial of his grievances and the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.

According to the appellate court, “In 1995, our legislature enacted section 24-3-430 of the South Carolina Code (2007) ... [which] allowed qualified private entities to use inmate labor but required the wages for participating inmates to be no less than ‘the prevailing wage for work of [a] similar nature in the private sector.’” However, on August 1, 2007 the South Carolina legislature amended that provision to permit payment of wages “less than the prevailing wage,” as well as establishing “mandatory deductions from the ‘gross earnings of the inmates engaged in prison industry service work in addition to any other required deductions.’”

Gatewood, who had started working in prison industries prior to the 2007 statutory amendment, argued that he should have been paid $4.00 an hour at all times. He filed his original grievance in 2004, which was denied; he submitted a second grievance, which was also denied, then filed an administrative action. He received his final paycheck in 2009 and the ALC finally denied his appeal in 2014 “on the ground that the deductions taken ... were proper.”

In reviewing that adverse decision the Court of Appeals gave Gatewood a limited victory, though it denied his motion to supplement the original record submitted at the ALC level. The appellate court agreed that all post-2007 deductions from Gatewood’s prison industry wages were improper, but certain security expenses were appropriate. The Court specifically reversed “the ALC’s conclusion that section 24-1-295 applies retroactively to [Gatewood’s] gross wages earned prior to August 1, 2007.”

Finally, since the Court of Appeals had partially reversed the ALC’s ruling, the issue of whether Gatewood was entitled to costs and attorney fees as the prevailing party, as well as post-judgment interest on any back wages he was due, was remanded to the ALC for reconsideration. See: Gatewood v. South Carolina D.O.C., 416 S.C. 304, 785 S.E.2d 600 (S.C. Ct. App. 2016), rehearing denied.

Related legal case

Gatewood v. South Carolina D.O.C.


 

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