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| Saunders and Walker

The nation’s fastest-growing legal battlefront may be between workers and companies. Since 2000, the number of wage-related cases filed in federal courts has doubled, and most involve overtime claims.

More workers suing to get overtime pay

Lori Langer poured herself into her job, putting in extra time calling prospective students as an admissions adviser at American Intercontinental University Online.

“I would stay an (extra) hour or two a day and come in on Saturday for four to six hours,” she recalled. “In order to get my job done, that is what I had to do.”

She liked the work, and liked the overtime pay, too.

But within a few months, her bosses told her she no longer could get paid for overtime, she said. Tear up your time sheets, they allegedly told her.

While not getting overtime pay did not seem right to Langer, 60, she didn’t do anything about it until she was contacted by a lawyer representing some of her colleagues in a federal class-action lawsuit claiming overtime-pay abuses.

Traditionally, all workers were eligible for time-and-a-half overtime, except for those in the executive, administrative and professional categories. The 2004 federal changes sought to define more clearly those exempt categories by using new job descriptions such as “exercises discretionary and independent judgment.” The change was made because language such as “holds a position of responsibility” was deemed too vague.

Many Tampa Bay workers find themselves in Lori’s situation. Employers attempt to justify their failure to pay overtime benefits by arguing that cafeteria workers, secretaries, delivery persons and others are exempt because they exercise independent judgment. That is not what the federal law intended or allows.

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