Baltimore has agreed to pay nearly 2,500 current and former Baltimore Police employees $3.45 million in unpaid overtime, ending a lawsuit filed in 2016.
The city’s Board of Estimates voted unanimously to approve the settlement at its weekly Wednesday morning meeting.
The settlement is the latest dispute about police overtime in the city, which has been struggling with persistent crime but a shortages of officers. For years the department routinely spent far more on overtime than it budgeted, with some officers more than doubling their paychecks, raising concerns about officer wellness and the potential for abuse.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has worked to rein in rising overtime costs, reducing spending from $50 million down to $12 million, by instituting new policies where officers must seek approval from supervisors, among other measures. The department also said recently that it has halted a longstanding practice of allowing officers on vacation to work extra duty shifts at overtime pay rates of time-and-a-half or more.
The class-action federal lawsuit filed in 2016 on behalf of 2,425 police department employees claimed that the city violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying employees the proper overtime rate for hours worked. Those rates had been negotiated in a memorandum of understanding between the police union and the city.
The plaintiffs argued that employees were supposed to be paid 1.5 times their hourly wage for overtime work, but the lawsuit included payslips for officers that showed employees being paid 3 percent less than time-and-a-half.
According to a Board of Estimates summary on the dispute, the police department calculated officers’ normal hourly rates, not including 11 minutes for those working patrol, or 15 minutes for those working non-patrol, at the end of the shift that was unpaid. The unpaid minutes were included in the overtime calculation, decreasing the officers’ overtime rate of pay, the summary said.
“The Plaintiffs claimed the regular rate should have been computed based on hours actually worked and that by including time normally not worked in the calculation of overtime, the BPD artificially depressed the overtime rate,” it said.
The city’s latest memorandum of understanding with officers corrected the overtime calculation, Deputy City Solicitor Darnell Ingram told the panel at Wednesday’s meeting.
“This provision that was the subject of dispute has been remedied,” Ingram said in response to questions from City Council President Nick J. Mosby. “This specific issue should no longer occur.”
Mosby also raised concerns about how the settlement would affect officers who have been found guilty or released from the department based on misconduct issues, and asked Ingram to provide to the Board how many officers the settlement might affect.
The Plaintiffs sought $14.8 million in damages plus interest, but at a settlement conference with the judge, the two parties reached an agreement of $3.45 million, the panel summary said.
The president of the police officer’s union did not respond to a request for comment.