Douglas County is investigating a claim by 21 of its employees who are trying to recover $2.1 million in overtime wages they feel the county owes them.
Bob Fairchild, county counsel, confirmed today that the county has received a written demand from a Topeka attorney on behalf of the employees. He said the county is investigating the claims, which were made by employees in the county's public works department.
Timothy Pringle, the employees' attorney, said the county had 120 days to respond to the written demand dated Dec. 23, 1991. The employees are seeking $2,108,160 for three years of overtime. If an agreement can't be reached, he said, a lawsuit could be filed after the 120 days, which end April 20.
Fairchild indicated the county would take the entire allotted time before responding.
The claim's central issue is whether the county owes overtime pay to the employees for time when the employees were home but on call, Pringle said. Some claims cover being on call for ice and snow removal duties during the winter months. Other claims are for year-round work.
"EACH EMPLOYEE has different facts they had to comply with," Pringle said.
He said public works had "particular policies which required certain employees to be on call at certain times. I think they were on call a week at a time, and it would rotate."
Concerning the ice and snow removal cases, Pringle said employees "had to be at home and available if called in."
Fairchild acknowledged the dispute between the county and the employees "about what the policy was." He said the policy remains in effect.
"Right now, there is strictly a voluntary policy," Fairchild said.
He said he was seeking information from Frank Hempen, public works director, John Young, deputy director, and Dave Leuty, operations division manager, as part of the investigation.
A KEY question, Fairchild said, was whether the public works policy and its facts are equal to a case involving Emporia firefighters and the city of Emporia. In November, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled the city of Emporia owed the firefighters about $3 million in overtime for being on call, he said.
The Emporia case differs from the Douglas County case, Fairchild said.
"The differences are what is the policy with regard to on-call time in other words, their policy was different than ours, and the amount of time that they were required to be on call," he said of the Emporia firefighters. "The facts are very different. They were called out almost every day they were on call.
"The policy in the (Douglas) county has been different for supervisors and line people. Pringle's not made any distinction between supervisors and line people."
FAIRCHILD added that none of the public works employees were disciplined for not showing up when called, but the Emporia firefighters were sanctioned for not reporting.
"There are no other cases in the United States quite like it," Fairchild said of the Emporia case.