City of Roanoke Agrees to Pay $1.2 Million Settlement in Police Pay Lawsuit

The City of Roanoke has reached an agreement to resolve claims brought by several current and former police officers who filed a class and collective action seeking relief for alleged unpaid wages pursuant to state and federal law.

All parties have agreed to the terms of the settlement, and a motion seeking approval of the settlement has been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The court must approve the settlement before it becomes final and the case can be dismissed.

The officers, Maurice Pendleton and Dawn Renee Wright, brought the class action case stating that 343 current and former police offers from Roanoke would be able to join them in their allegations. Their lawsuit, filed on Friday, May 11, 2018, claimed that Roanoke violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law governing overtime wages in America, along with Virginia-specific labor law.

In their suit, Pendleton and Wright say they were often encouraged – and sometimes required – to work “off-the-clock” without pay – a clear violation of federal and state law, if true. Off-the-clock hours, the two say, were often filled by finishing paperwork, inspecting firearms, filling up police cruisers at city-owned gas pumps and prepping body cameras according to online watchdog website Wage Advocates.

This wasn’t an idle mistake, Pendleton and Wright continue.

In the class action, the officers charged that Roanoke has actively schemed to underpay police officers for some time. Officers don’t actually clock in and out to mark their shifts, which would allow the City to maintain accurate hours records for its employees. Instead, the men and women of the Roanoke police force were paid according to their scheduled work hours, the lawsuit claimed, rather than for the hours they actually worked.

In effect, the officers claimed, Roanoke engaged in the “creation of manifestly false pay stubs” in order to “actively conceal” its illegal behavior.

Police officers in Roanoke apparently making overtime according to non-traditional guidelines. Instead of being calculated on a weekly basis (as it is for most American workers), officers work on a two-week schedule and become entitled to overtime after having worked 86 hours in that time period, in line with federal law. Virginia State law sets the overtime threshold at 80 hours. The vast majority of US employees, unlike these police officers, become entitled to overtime after working 40 hours in a single workweek.

Overtime pay in the department is strictly-controlled, the Virginia officers said; it’s usually only authorized to follow up on specific cases or when a police officer is asked to come into work on an off-day. That’s fine, but it’s definitely not okay if officers are being forced to work off-the-clock without compensation.

The City of Roanoke has agreed to pay $800,000 in full satisfaction of the plaintiffs’ claims, plus $400,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. The police officers’ law firm, in coordination with the police officers, will determine the individual amounts to be allocated to the 343 current and former police officers who are part of the similarly situated class of officers.  According to a city spokesperson, “Any failure to capture all hours worked by the plaintiffs was not willful and the City desires to resolve these allegations in an expeditious and just manner.  The City of Roanoke is committed to paying all of its employees fairly and in accordance with the law.”

The City of Roanoke is in the process of implementing several measures that continue to support consistent application of laws and policies governing employee compensation.