Jail workers file federal labor lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Fifty-six employees of the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility – including 15 from Adams County and two from Vidalia – have filed a federal lawsuit against CCA of Tennessee for failure to pay overtime.

CCA of Tennessee, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of American, is a private for-profit company that operates prisons.

In addition to the Wilkinson County facility, it operates prisons in Greenwood, Miss., and Tallahatchie County.

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Plantiffs say the company did not keep accurate records of employee overtime at those three locations.

&uot;It’s our estimate that literally thousands and thousands of hours of overtime are not accounted for,&uot; said Cliff Johnson, an attorney for the plaintiffs with the Jackson law firm of Pigott, Reeves, Johnson and Minor.

Johnson said his law firm became involved in the case after hearing reports of violations of the Fair Labor Standards Acts for failure to pay overtime worked since 1998.

&uot;We had received some allegations from a handful of employees at the Woodville facility and … our law firm conducted our own investigation,&uot; Johnson said.

During the investigation, the lawyers found two ways that the employees were being underpaid, Johnson said.

For example, employees were routinely required to attend meetings during their off-time and were not compensated for that time.

&uot;You attend a meeting off the clock for varying lengths of time so obviously you work more than your eight hour day but there’s no record of it,&uot; Johnson said.

Employees were also required to work more than eight hours a day but then were prohibited from clocking out.

&uot;By not allowing them to clock out they could manipulate the documentation,&uot; Johnson said.

The law firm filed the suit in the federal court of the southern district of Mississippi.

It also filed two lawsuits in the northern district court of Mississippi on behalf of employees in Greenwood and Tallahatchie County.

Those two suits are class action complaints also filed on behalf of all current and former CCA employees at those facilities, Johnson said.

He also expects the number of plaintiffs who worked at the Wilkinson County facility to increase.

&uot;I think the message here is a simple one.&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Pay hardworking people what they’re entitled to under the law. We don’t think that’s too much to ask.&uot;

For employees like these the missing overtime pay can really make a difference in their lives, Johnson said.

&uot;These really are hardworking people who don’t get paid a lot of money,&uot; he said. &uot;They’re hourly employees trying to support their families and themselves.&uot;

Gus Puryear, general counsel for CCA of Tennessee, declined to comment except to say, &uot;we think the appropriate place to tell our side of the story is in the courthouse.&uot;

The first step in the suit will be for the court to schedule a case management conference to establish a timetable for motions in the case.

Johnson said he expected the conference to be scheduled within the next 45 days.