MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A group of state prison guards has filed a lawsuit alleging the state owes them millions in back pay because of a 2012 work rule that defines when they are considered on duty.
Ten prison guards from institutions across Wisconsin filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Dane County Circuit Court.
According to the lawsuit, the state Department of Corrections issued a policy on Jan. 29, 2012, stating that employees are considered “on duty when they are present at their assigned post/work location prepared to assume their duties at their designated start time.”
But the guards allege it means they aren’t paid for pre-shift work that serves DOC’s interests, such as passing a security screening, participating in roll calls and fitness for duty checks, checking out and receiving equipment and traveling through prisons to their assigned posts, all while being ready to respond to emergency calls.
They also alleged they are not paid for post-shift work that includes communicating with relief officers, checking in work equipment and passing a security screening, again while being available for emergency calls.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab said she couldn’t comment Thursday because the lawsuit is ongoing.
The 10 are seeking to have the lawsuit certified as a class action that could include more than 3,000 people.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a decision last month by the state Equal Rights Division in favor of a guard at Redgranite Correctional Institution. It ordered that back pay be awarded to compensate him for work time for which he was not paid because it fell outside the policy’s definition of “on duty.”
That guard is not one of the 10 involved in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The guards filed a class action lawsuit because Act 10, signed by Gov. Scott Walker in March 2011, removed collective bargaining as a means to resolve disputes like this one, the lawsuit states. Individuals lack the means to file separate lawsuits, which would also be expensive to the state, the lawsuit states.
If the suit succeeds, the state would have to pay the officers millions of dollars. Much of the lost time would have to be paid at time-and-a-half because the officers worked 40 or more hours in those weeks. Additionally, the state could have to pay the officers’ attorneys fees and damages equivalent to half the amount of the unpaid wages.