DENVER – A judge decided last week that Lake County commissioners owe nine sheriff’s deputies $66,079 – twice as much as a jury awarded three weeks ago at a trial for a pay dispute.
U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez granted the deputies’ request to double the amounts that jurors concluded the deputies were owed.
The judge agreed with the deputies that federal law states employees who were not paid what they were due are entitled to an amount double what wasn’t paid, if the employer willfully violated the law.
The jury, in its verdict Sept. 11, concluded the commissioners willfully didn’t pay the deputies the full amount they were entitled to.
The commissioners denied they willfully violated the federal Fair Labor Standards law. They stated, through their attorney, that they acted in good faith and several years ago had obtained legal advice to try to follow the law.
Nine current and former deputies claimed the defendants – the county commissioners, County Clerk Patricia Berger and the sheriff’s office – violated the law by not paying all wages due and violated the deputies’ constitutional right to due process.
Jurors agreed with the deputies on both claims.
The dispute covered the period from October 2007 to November 2010.
The deputies contended they were hourly employees and weren’t paid straight time for all the hours they worked.
They were paid for 80 hours of work despite normally working 84 hours or more in two-week pay periods. They worked seven, 12-hour shifts in a pay period.
The county contended that the deputies were salaried employees – not hourly employees – and that their pay covered all the hours they worked.
The deputies claimed their right to due process was violated because they allegedly did not receive all the pay they earned, were not given notice and were not given an opportunity to be heard.
Near the end of the trial, the judge granted Berger’s request to be dismissed as a defendant.
The commissioners set the budget. Berger prepared the payroll.
An attorney for the deputies, Reid Elkus, told jurors the commissioners’ actions were willful because former sheriff Ed Holte and deputies brought the issue to the attention of the commissioners and Berger in 2005 and 2008.
They ignored the issue, Elkus alleged.
Last week’s ruling awarded different amounts for each of the nine, ranging from $12,321 to $1,502.