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Missouri Supreme Court says more work needed to determine how much DOC employees owed in overtime pay

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Supreme Court sent a lawsuit leveled against the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) back to the Cole County Circuit Court this week. 

A class of DOC corrections officers sued the department in 2013, alleging it failed to compensate them for necessary overtime work. The circuit court sided with the plaintiffs, granting the group of officers more than $133 million in damages for pre-shift and post-shift activities, including receiving assignments from supervisors and retrieving keys, radios, and other equipment. The circuit court found these activities were compensable and said the department breached contract by failing to compensate employees for these tasks.  

The original decision was handed down by Cole County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Pat Joyce in 2018. DOC appealed the decision, and it was affirmed by the Western District Court of Appeals before the state took it to the high court. 

The Supreme Court partially overturned the lower court’s ruling: The decision upheld the verdict that those activities were compensable, but found the plaintiffs had failed to clearly establish the chronological order of their activities to determine what other tasks may be covered by the continuous workday rule. 

The case was partially remanded back to the Cole County Circuit Court to determine just how much the DOC employees are owed in compensation. 

“The undisputed facts are insufficient to show all the other pre-shift and post-shift activities are compensable as principal activities, as a matter of law, so the circuit court’s determination that all pre-shift and post-shift activities are compensable was erroneous,” Judge Patricia Breckenridge said in the opinion. “The award of damages and the circuit court’s declaratory and injunctive relief were based on that erroneous finding of liability, so those rulings are also erroneous.”

The Attorney General’s Office argued before the high court the department was not liable for activities outside of officers’ shifts and said the plaintiffs could not maintain a private course of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The plaintiffs, however, said the department failed to adhere to the circuit court’s ruling and provide compensation. 

Burger Law, the firm representing the plaintiffs, said it would “get ready for another trial on damages in the Cole County Circuit Court with the guidance provided by the Missouri Supreme Court.”

The decision was one of several handed down by the Supreme Court Tuesday; another ruling struck down a paycheck protection law passed by the legislature in 2018 after a coalition of labor unions sued to prevent its implementation.

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