Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2019

Currently: 70° — Complete forecast

Lawyer: Nevada on hook for $60 million in unpaid prison guard time

RENO — Nevada could be on the hook for up to $60 million in damages and back wages to state prison guards, according to a lawyer for corrections officers in a federal unpaid overtime lawsuit.

Officers usually spend about 45 unpaid minutes before and after work shifts in briefings, equipment pick-ups and uniform inspections, labor attorney Mark Thierman told the Reno Gazette Journal.

The Nevada attorney general's office characterized the off-the-clock tasks as "trivialities" that don't have to be compensated, according to court records in the lawsuit filed in 2014. State lawyers cast the guards' case as the product of "assumptions, labels and conclusions."

U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du disagreed in a March ruling that called the off-hours activities "integral and indispensable" to the job.

The judge said the guards could continue to seek federally protected overtime payments for that work, but would have to abandon allegations that the state had breached its employment contract.

She also temporarily dismissed a complaint the guards filed under Nevada's overtime law, which requires workers to file and appeal grievances with the state's employee management committee.

Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, on Friday cited office policy not to comment on ongoing litigation. She said the attorney general was representing the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Prisons spokeswoman Brooke Santina also declined to comment about ongoing litigation.

Thierman said he represents more than 500 guards, and estimates that each is owed between $20,000 and $40,000 in damages and unpaid overtime accrued over six years.

He said that if he can revive a state court overtime claim and get it certified as a class action case, he figures that about 3,000 guards could be eligible for a payout.

A $60 million judgment would be about seven times the total amount Nevada currently has on hand to pay damages out of its tort claims fund, the Gazette Journal reported.