Overtime, Overdue

By Glenn Cook

Samuel Brand knew something was wrong when two school secretaries visited his Jackson, Miss., law office in 1998.

Dorothy Carlisle and Charlotte Makamson thought they were entitled to time-and-a-half pay, even though the Oktibbeha County School District had declared all employees exempt from overtime. Carlisle and Makamson, who were retiring, had kept records for the previous two years and wanted to be compensated under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

"It's not right for school systems to do this," Brand says. "It's just not right. These employees have done the work. And they've earned the money. They've earned it."

Brand knew the secretaries -- along with other nonexempt or classified positions such as custodians, bus drivers, and teacher aides -- were subject to wage-and-hour laws. So he wrote a letter to the school board and then filed a lawsuit. Twenty-two Oktibbeha County employees soon joined, and the School Litigation Group (SLG) was born.

Thousands of lawsuits later, the SLG has branched out into at least 10 states, with more being added every month. Mississippi, with 6,000 claims filed in 105 of the state's 152 school districts, has seen its court system clogged by the flurry of litigation. And school districts, both large and small, have spent millions to settle the lawsuits and pay employees for lost wages. 

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