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Sheriff denies wrongdoing in deputies' pay suit

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Parties accused of cheating Frederick County sheriff's deputies out of overtime pay are firing back.

An attorney for the county sheriff's office filed a response in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg on Tuesday to an amended complaint claiming the agency and the Frederick County administration knowingly failed to compensate more than 60 deputies since 2005 for overtime hours. The complaint named Sheriff Robert T. "Bob" Williamson and County Adminstrator John R. Riley Jr. as defendants in the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint after U.S. Judge Michael F. Urbanski on July 10 denied in part but granted in part a motion to dismiss the case for failing to state a claim. Urbanski also granted a motion to allow the plaintiffs' attorney to file an amended complaint which he did July 19. Jim Guynn, an attorney representing Frederick County, filed a motion for summary judgment on Aug. 2 asking the court to drop his client from the lawsuit, claiming the county does not hire, fire or control the pay of the deputies at issue. The county is arguing thehese responsibilities lie solely with the sheriff's office.

The sheriff's office and Williamson deny many of the allegations but admit to others in the amended complaint. The sheriff denies any willful violations of state or federal law.

"Any alleged harm suffered by Plaintiffs was caused by conduct of third parties over which Defendants had no control or authority," the answer states.

The attorney for the sheriff's office, Leslie Winneberger, has filed separate motions in the case, including their answer to the amended complaint. The answer states Williamson admits to employing the plaintiffs in the rank of lieutenant and below during the past three years. Williamson also admits that the county and the Virginia Compensation Board has compensated the plaintiff, the answer states.

The sheriff's office has established uniform time-keeping, payroll practices and policies with respect to payment of overtime for plaintiffs, according to the answer. As the answer notes, the plaintiffs regular work schedule since 2005 calls for 160 hours in a 28-day period.

The amended complaint claims the defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and state law requiring overtime compensation for sworn law enforcement employees who work a certain number of hours known as "gap time."

"Defendants admit they and the County knew about the passage [the state code] in or around 2005," the answer states. "Defendants admit the County did not pay Plaintiffs at the rate of time and a half for the time period between 160 hours and 171 hours."

"Defendants admit that the County did not pay Plaintiffs at the rate of time and a half for gap time until on or about January 1, 2012," the answer adds.

The sheriff admits he adopted the county's compensatory time policy that allowed deputies to accrue overtime hours in one work period and take those hours off in future periods, according to the answer. Williamson suspended the policy March 29. The defendants admit the county didn't give plaintiffs credit for compensatory time -- at a rate of time and a half -- for hours worked beyond 160 and below 171, the answer states. Williamson does admit to adopting a system called "adjusted work scheduling," which he suspended March 29.

"Defendants deny the alleged violations of law were raised to Sheriff Williamson on numerous occasions," the answer states. "Defendants admit Sheriff Williamson or someone from his office questioned the County on more than one occasion as to how the Virginia gap pay statute applied to the Sheriff's deputies."

Williamson admits the county has for the past three years given plaintiffs compensatory credit at a straight-time rate for hours worked beyond 160 hours and less than 171, according to the answer.

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