Massachusetts To Pay $2.1 Million To Settle State Trooper Overtime Suit

The Patrick administration has agreed to pay $21.5 million to nearly 2,000 current and retired state troopers, and grant some of them extra time off, to settle a legal claim by the troopers who said they were shortchanged when they worked overtime from 2001 through 2013.

During those years, troopers who worked extra hours received, in some cases, compensatory time at a rate of one hour off for every hour of overtime worked.

The union that represents the troopers filed a grievance in 2005 saying they should receive 1.5 hours in compensatory time for every hour of overtime worked, based on federal labor law that mandates a higher rate of pay after employees work 40 hours in a one-week period.

“It was a long-standing practice that we stopped, as a matter of good fiscal management and public safety,” Colonel Timothy P. Alben, superintendent of the State Police, said in an interview. “This clearly is a lot of money and it’s taxpayers’ dollars,” he said. “I get that.”

Under the terms of an eight-page settlement, signed on Aug. 7, troopers are eligible to receive additional paid time off for work they performed before the date the grievance was filed and extra pay for work after that date.

The settlement provides an average of about two weeks of additional paid time off to 304 troopers included in the pregrievance period. It also provides some very large pay days for those who were denied the federal overtime rate after the grievance was filed.

The top five recipients will receive $154,646, $121,052, $117,533, $114,614, and $112,149, State Police said. The average payout to approximately 1,800 recipients is $11,600, the state said.

“It was critical for the Commonwealth to enter this settlement to address an outstanding and ongoing liability, and properly compensate police officers for time already worked,” said Katie Hammer, state assistant secretary of administration and finance. “We are confident that this settlement is in the best interest of the Commonwealth,” she added.

Hammer said the $21.5 million settlement will not affect current staffing levels. She also said the payments will come from existing reserves in the State Police annual budget of about $264 million.

According to Alben, State Police commanders relied on compensatory time when money in annual overtime accounts ran out. At those times, troopers involved in ongoing investigations and training kept working but without extra pay.

“There were definite staffing issues, especially toward the end of fiscal years,” he said. “We had no choice but to keep investigations and training going.”

Alben said the practice, however, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

He said that the State Police were down to about 2,000 troopers and superior officers at one time, forcing commanders to stretch personnel. He noted that the number is back up to 2,200, and that his goal is to get it to his recent high-water mark of 2,500 troopers and superior officers.

Alben said the settlement is also a boost for troopers’ morale.

David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said pressure for troopers to work overtime came after the World Trade Center bombings in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

The union representing the troopers declined comment. The state also agreed to pay the union’s $350,000 in legal expenses in the case, according to the settlement.

From The Boston Globe