Current, former NOPD officers weigh joining overtime suit - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Current, former NOPD officers weigh joining overtime suit

New Orleans, La. -

Current and former NOPD officers who think they've been cheated out of overtime pay for years can now join a federal lawsuit.

This week, a federal judge denied the city's request to have the case thrown out.  Those involved say now the challenge is getting officers, who are afraid of retribution, to get on board.

Chad Perez filed the lawsuit in September 2012 after resigning from the NOPD, where he worked for 14 years.

"I never thought I'd leave. I worked in the most elite units of the department throughout my career," says Perez.

The suit alleges he and other officers were shortchanged when it comes to overtime pay and compensation.

"If our normal hours ended at 2:00 a.m., we'd be called in at 3:00 or 3:30 to investigate a robbery or shooting, and we had to show up," says Perez. "We weren't being compensated at all."

Perez says he first complained to his 1st District supervisors in February 2011, then six months later alerted the NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau in writing, saying other officers had similar complaints but all expressed fear of retribution for coming forward.  That's when Perez claims things got progressively worse.

He says, "Within nine days of filing the complaint, the supervisors who I filed the complaint against initiated disciplinary action against me, basically for leaving work three minutes early without their permission. They would change my hours on a weekly basis so that it would conflict with details I had lined up."

Perez also filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging a violation of the Fair Labor and Standards Act.

"The law says they have to be paid time and a half for any hours worked in excess of a 40-hour work week," says Eric Hessler, a Police Association of New Orleans attorney who is also representing Perez.

Now U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier says there is enough evidence to move ahead with the lawsuit, denying the city's motion to dismiss it.

Hessler says, unlike a normal class action where people can opt out, in this case current and former officers must opt in.

"What this ruling does, it opens the door for officers who've left the department, maybe retired in the past three years, who believe they have not been paid correctly," says Hessler.

Perez wants back pay at the very least.  He says, "We're talking thousands of dollars without a doubt. And if you take into account the retaliatory acts, tens of thousands of dollars for me personally."

The NOPD does not comment on pending litigation, but it's a case that could potentially hit the cash-strapped city hard in its pocketbook.

"That's unfortunate," says Hessler. "But we want to represent our members and we want our officers paid correctly. It's the law and the city ought to follow it."

The statute of limitations was extended from two to three years in this case after the judge ruled the preliminary evidence supports Perez's allegation that the NOPD deliberately withheld overtime pay.

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