JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Department of Corrections Wednesday lost a $113.7 million dollar jury verdict in a class-action lawsuit alleging that it made workers work pre-and-post-shift activities without paying them over a period of several years.
The class included 13,000 employees and former employees who claimed in their complaint that the Department of Corrections knowingly and intentionally refused to pay workers for time spent working before and after their normal shifts, according to a press release from the law firm representing the plaintiffs. The complaint accused the department of violating the Fair Labor Standard Act regarding payment of overtime and said it rejected multiple grievances filed by employees asking to be paid for time spent working.
The suit was brought by the Burger law firm and the Cuneo, Gilbert, and LaDuca law firm, both of St. Louis.
Attorney Gary Burger said, "I am proud to have been able to represent these hardworking and honorable men and women corrections officers fight the Department of Corrections' dishonorable system. We hope this verdict tells the DOC to stop making their officers work and refusing to pay for it."
Spokesperson Mary Compton of the Attorney General's office said, “This lawsuit involves actions by the Department of Corrections over multiple decades and multiple administrations. The Attorney General’s Office has been defending this lawsuit since the Koster Administration and will continue to do so. We respectfully disagree with the verdict today.”
The verdict is the latest in a series of complaints against the department.
A hotline implemented for employees to report unprofessional conduct received about 160 calls in its first 11 months. The department's director, Anne Precythe, established the hotline in the spring of 2017 amidst a legislative effort to improve working conditions in the department. Reports in late 2016 showed the department had paid out millions of dollars in litigation to former employees who claimed they were either victims of discrimination or harassment.
The total verdict against the department was $113,714,632.
Concerns have been rising for stakeholders in Missouri’s prison system as employees, inmates, and their families have said staffing levels at the state’s facilities are dangerously low.