Former deputies suing county

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 4, 2009

Two former Covington County Sheriff’s Department deputies/K-9 officers have filed suit against the county for allegedly violating wage and hour laws set by the Fair Standards and Labor Act.

The suit, which was filed earlier this week, names Jason Ballard and Nicolas Ireland and “all others similarly situated” as plaintiffs, while naming the Covington County Commission, Lynn Sasser in his capacity as chairman and Dennis Meeks in his capacity as sheriff as defendants.

The suit states Ballard, who worked for the sheriff’s office for nearly seven years, and Ireland, who worked for the department nearly three years, each served as canine deputies and were required to perform duties while off duty and without compensation. Those duties included the general upkeep and maintenance of the dogs and their boarding, feeding, exercising and training, in addition to their regular duties as deputies.

Other points of the suit include allegations the two worked outside their normal work week and were not compensated for their time; that they and “others similarly situated” were required to be on-call while off duty and without compensation; that the time for which they are paid is significantly less than the time they spent working; and that in addition to “depriving (them) of overtime wages” the defendants have failed to accurately account for and report all compensatory time worked, thereby depriving them of overtime pay.

The two are suing for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime wages, damages and attorney fees.

The “others similarly situated” are defined as every employee of the sheriff’s office; and the suit is asking the court to allow those affected to “opt-in.”

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Charles A. “Lex” Short.

Chris Sledge, the deputies’ attorney, said the suit is about “an honest pay for an honest day’s work.”

“Every law enforcement officer puts their lives on the line every day for what I consider low pay,” Sledge said. “They deserve everything they are entitled to under law, whether they are on the clock or off.”

Sledge said both Opp and Andalusia police department and “and the surrounding sheriff’s departments, from what I understand” compensate their K-9 officers.

Both Meeks and Sasser deferred commenting on the suit to county attorney Julie Moody.

“We’ve received the suit and will defend it,” Moody said.

The county has 30 days to answer the complaint.