County to pay workers $300,000 for overtime Detention Center required early start


Harford County will pay more than $300,000 of overtime in a settlement reached with 128 employees of the sheriff's office who were required to be at work 15 minutes early for roll call even though the sheriff had ordered the policy dropped in December 1990.

The settlement includes active, retired and former nonunion deputies and other Detention Center personnel, including correctional officers and nurses employed between February 1989 and April 1992.

The average payment to each person is about $2,000, said Ernest A. Crofoot, attorney for the county.

"The total is about $260,000 in gross wages, and employers' payroll taxes raises the county's cost over $300,000," he said.

A similar settlement reached last November with 87 unionized deputies cost the county $115,569 in back pay.

The unionized deputies working road patrol sued in February 1990 over the policy of then-Sheriff Dominic Mele, who required them to work the extra 15 minutes without pay.

Sheriff Robert E. Comes ended that policy as soon as he took office in December 1990.

Mr. Crofoot refused to speculate why the early roll-call policy was stopped at the sheriff's office but continued at the Detention Center, which is under the authority of the sheriff.

Sheriff Comes said last week that he wanted to change the early roll-call policy at the jail, too.

The sheriff said he asked Maj. E. Dale Zepp, a member of his command staff directly overseeing the operation of the Detention Center at that time, to see what could be done.

"We really couldn't resolve it because the incoming shift has to verify a head count [of the inmates] with the shift that's going off duty," he said.

The sheriff said jail personnel have been paid for the 15 minutes of daily overtime since April 1992.

Mr. Crofoot said the cooperation between his office, the sheriff's office and lawyers for the 128 people seeking the back pay was helpful in resolving the matter.

"In some cases, both sides went out of their way to locate people no longer on the payroll who were entitled to the back pay," he said.

The settlement used a formula acceptable to the county and the lawyers representing the employees.

"We didn't have to research every payroll record and calculate each hour, minute and second worked overtime," said Mr. Crofoot.

"We came up with a formula, which we felt was very fair, and it was agreed upon by all concerned."

The payoff, he said, depended on a lot of variables. Using a formula was the fairest way to account for the differences in individual vacation time, sick leave, or days not worked.

Mr. Crofoot said each person involved in the class-action suit had to come in and sign documents agreeing to accept the settlement.

"We wanted to have it done sooner, but all that took time," said Mr. Crofoot, adding that the county also paid for all attorney's fees.

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