Forced to work OT but not paid? Police employees sue

Forced to work OT but not paid? Police employees sue
A generic picture of police body camera.

CINCINNATI, Ohio (FOX19) - Four employees in the City of Cincinnati’s Body Worn Camera Unit allege in a federal lawsuit the city is violating federal and state law by consistently requiring them to work more than 40 hours per week without paying them overtime.

The suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio alleges the administrative technicians in the unit’s redaction team tried to get the overtime, but “police command staff” refused.

The employees are Demarco Tunstill, Carrie Howell, Courtney Cooper and Kyle Brown.

Their lawyers, Christian Jenkins and Robb Stokar, are asking the court to assert their rights to be paid overtime when they work over 40 hours a week and then order the city to pay it for the past three years.

They also are seeking damages in an equal amount and attorneys fees and costs.

The City of Cincinnati and police department have not responded yet to our requests for comment.

The Cincinnati Police Department requires many of its sworn police personnel to use body worn cameras in the execution of their law enforcement duties, the suit states. Police officers use these cameras to record traffic stops, crime investigations and responses to calls for assistance, among other activities.

Prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, civil litigators, the media and members of the public regularly request copies of body worn camera videos, according to the lawsuit. Before a video is released to the requester, it must be reviewed in real time and redacted according to specific guidelines.

“The redaction process is time consuming as each officer’s video must be watched in real time. When multiple officers respond to the same call, all body camera footage must be reviewed and redacted. Prosecutors requesting body camera video are often on tight, court-imposed timelines and require a fast turn-around time for the request," the suit reads.

“As a result of the foregoing and an increase in the use of and request for body camera videos, the workload of the BWC Unit consistently exceeded the capacity of its members working regular 40-hour workweeks. In response, for an extended period of time the City regularly required the nonexempt employees working in the BWC Unit to work mandatory overtime to accommodate the high volume and fast turn-around time requests for videos. "

“Instead of overtime, plaintiffs were paid at straight time for such hours. Such straight time payments were made in the form of cash or “flex time,” the suit states.

City flex time can be used by employees to arrive at work late or leave early, while being paid their regular hourly rate for the time “flexed” away from work, the suit explains.

“All flex time must be used within twenty-four months of accrual and has no cash value in the event the employee leaves city service for any reason,” reads the suit.

The workers “objected to being required to work overtime without receiving overtime pay and sought to obtain proper pay without resorting to litigation,” the suit states. "Their requests were made through the chain of command within the City’s Police Department through the head of the police records department and to the division manager, Amity Bishop. Despite these requests, mandatory overtime hours without overtime pay required by law continued for an extended period of time from approximately January 2017 until approximately May 2018.

“In or around September 2018, Ms. Bishop advised that “Police Command Staff” would not approve Overtime Pay for members of the BWC redaction team," according to the suit.

“No effort was made to compensate plaintiffs for the overtime hours they had worked without legally required overtime pay. Rather than comply with applicable law and properly compensate plaintiffs, the city discontinued mandatory overtime for plaintiffs and attempted to operate the BWC redaction team without overtime. However, plaintiffs worked voluntary overtime, but were paid at a straight time rate."

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