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Missouri Jury Awards $113.7 Million to Prison Guards Required to Work Without Pay

by Matt Clarke

On September 14, 2018, a Missouri state court issued an amended final judgment in a class-action lawsuit brought by Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) guards who alleged they were required to work without compensation before and after each shift. The judgment included a jury award of $113.7 million, inclusive of over $37.9 million in attorney fees and more than $219,000 in litigation costs.

With the assistance of the Missouri Corrections Officers Association and St. Louis attorneys Gary K. Burger, Jr. and Brian M. Winebright, DOC guards Thomas Hootselle, Jr., Daniel Dicus, Oliver Huff, Powell Meister, Billie Since, Beverly Ann Stevenson, Amanda Strange and Morgan Strange filed a class-action complaint alleging that DOC guards, who work five eight-hour shifts per week, were being required to work without compensation before and after their shifts.

Specifically, they claimed they were required to be at their posts at the start of a shift, which was when their pay started, but were also required to do the following after arriving at the prison but prior to reporting to their posts: 1) remove their uniform jackets and belts and pass through a security checkpoint; 2) put the jackets and belts back on and proceed to an equipment area where they must line up, sign in and be issued keys and communications equipment; 3) proceed to another control area where they were required to line up and sign in again; and 4) pass through an “air lock,” walk to their assigned posts, and be briefed on census information and activity reports. This process took 15 to 25 minutes each day, sometimes longer, and did not count toward compensated work hours.

After the shift’s end, guards were required to perform another series of uncompensated tasks, including: 1) completing end-of-shift activity reports and census reports; 2) traversing multiple security checkpoints and control points; 3) checking facility email and communications sent to them; and 4) returning and signing in keys and communications equipment. This also required 15 to 25 minutes, sometimes longer. Failure to be at the prison in time to complete these unpaid tasks and be on post at the start of a shift was punishable by disciplinary action. Thus, the guards were being forced to work between four and seven uncompensated hours each 40-hour workweek.

Among other claims, the lawsuit alleged those practices violated the guards’ labor agreement with the DOC as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act. The trial court granted summary judgment to the guards on the legal and factual issues, and a jury set damages at $113,714,632. The court awarded $37,904.877 of that judgment in attorney fees, and $219,647.34 for litigation costs. It also awarded named plaintiffs Hootselle, Dicus and Huff $25,000 each as a service award, and ordered the remainder of the judgment to be divided among the class members according to how many shifts they had worked. The class was defined as all people who worked for the Missouri DOC as a Corrections Officer I or II at any time from August 14, 2007 to the present.

A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Labor found $500,000 in overtime violations for the pre- and post-shift duties at just one DOC facility, but prison officials had neither investigated nor acted on the report. Burger noted that the DOC had retaliated against guards who complained about the unpaid work. See: Hootselle v. Missouri Department of Corrections, 19th Circuit Court of Cole County (MO), Case No. 12AC-CC00518. 

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Additional source: sltoday.com

Related legal case

Hootselle v. Missouri Department of Corrections