Franklin officers sue over alleged off-clock work

Posted: June 21, 2013

Complaining that they were forced to work off the clock, three former and current Franklin Township police officers are suing the Gloucester County township in federal court.

Police Chief Michael Rock declined to comment.

In their suit, filed Tuesday in Camden, the officers say they are not being paid for time they are required to work before and after their shifts and also when they respond to emergencies when driving to work in their township-issued police cars.

"Municipalities and police departments need to be held more accountable for their management of time," said the officers' lawyer, Michelle J. Douglass of Northfield, who filed a similar suit against Wildwood officials in November.

This month, she said, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider ruled that the suit could be a collective action on behalf of all Wildwood officers.

The Franklin Township suit, which is also seeking collective action status, says the township's time practices violate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Francesco Gaetano, one of three plaintiffs, left the department two years ago. In September 2011, he pleaded guilty in Superior Court to tampering with records after he was caught falsifying payroll vouchers and time sheets.

Douglass said compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney fees, could reach $1 million.

The suit also says the officers were sometimes given compensatory time instead of overtime, then were told that they would lose it if they didn't take it by the year's end.

"Employers cannot impose a 'use it or lose it' requirement," the suit says.

Douglass said Wednesday that the police department kept a separate set of time records, known as "secret squirrel" records, for compensatory time. Those hours owed did not show up, she said, on the records kept for budget purposes.

According to the lawsuit, the officers' contract requires them to report 10 minutes before their shift and stay 10 minutes after it. Douglass said that even when managers and employees agree on a provision in their contract, it still can't violate the law.

She did not sue the union, the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 122, because "the employer - not the union - is charged with paying employees properly," she said.

While Rock would not comment on the suit, the chief did discuss the township's policy of allowing officers to use patrol cars to commute if they live within the township.

He said that when officers are assigned the cars, they tend to take better care of them, and having them parked in driveways throughout the township acts as a deterrent. The policy puts more cars on the road, providing an impression of more security.

He said that officers are compensated when they respond to a call or take action during their commutes - usually by leaving early or taking extra time off.

According to the suit, the township employs 25 officers. Besides Gaetano, who is serving probation and whose case is on appeal, the plaintiffs are retiree Thomas Little and Estelle Hughes, a current officer.


Contact Jane Von Bergen at jvonbergen@phillynews.com, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing

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