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DEFENDANT’S Contract – Class action – Claim by sheriff’s deputies for unpaid wages – Alleged breach of express, implied and oral contracts for payment for meal periods worked.

Pinellas County, FL

This class action was brought by just under ________ Pinellas County Sheriff’s Detention Department deputies under three contract theories, written, oral and implied. The plaintiffs alleged that the sheriff breached the contracts by failing to pay them for meal periods during which they worked. The defendant denied that the contracts existed, argued that the deputies did not work during the period in question and, if they did, they were given additional time to eat or extra compensation. The defense also claimed that the deputies had waived their right to be paid for meal periods by failing to utilize the defendant’s internal grievance procedures.

The plaintiffs claimed that the lack of payment for meal periods worked dated back to March of ________. The plaintiffs contended that were given 30 minutes for lunch, but were initially required to remain on premises and be on call during that time. The plaintiffs argued that they could be called on the radio to respond to an inmate issue. Later in time, the plaintiffs were permitted to leave the premises. The plaintiffs argued that the 30-minute lunch period was spent for the benefit of the defendant sheriff and that they were entitled to payment for that period. They claimed they were actually working eight and a-half hours per day, but were only paid for eight hours. The case was bifurcated and tried on liability only.

The defendant argued that, even if the deputies remained on premises, they were free to read, go to their cars, go the gym or engage in a number of activities unrelated to their duties. Testimony was presented by the defense that, if a deputy’s lunch was interrupted, that deputy would be given additional time to eat or receive additional pay. That testimony was disputed by the plaintiffs. The defendant also maintained that there were designated teams to respond to inmate issues and the plaintiffs were seldom called during meal breaks, especially at night when inmates were locked in their cells.The jury found (on the affirmative defense of waiver) that the plaintiffs’ did not waive their right to be paid for all meal periods when they worked. However, the jury found for the defendant on the remaining counts, finding no existence of an express, oral or implied contract that the detention deputies would be paid for all meal periods when they worked. Thus, a defense verdict was entered.

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