Collective lawsuit against University picks up steam

Two more employees have joined a collective lawsuit alleging the University violated federal labor standards and shortchanged staff for overtime pay.

Bridgette Harkless, a former executive assistant in the GW Law School, and Jamie Lewis, executive associate in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, both filed complaints in May to join a lawsuit filed on April 27, alleging that GW withheld more than $5 million in overtime pay from employees.

Both claim the University did not compensate them for numerous hours of overtime work, according to court documents.

Overtime pay policies for a handful of positions at the University were adjusted last year under the Fair Labor Standards Act, a law that regulates employment practices such as minimum wage and overtime qualifications, and the plaintiffs claim they were not paid in full after the reclassification.

The lawsuit also alleges the University wrongfully calculated overtime pay. Under D.C. law, GW must reimburse employees for three years of overtime hours, but the employees claim the University only reimbursed two years worth of money, following federal instead of local law, according to the complaint.

The numbers the University calculated for overtime pay were “ridiculous,” said Michael Sweeney, an attorney from Getman Sweeney, the firm specializing in labor suits. Instead of earning “time-and-a-half,” a faulty calculation in the University’s payroll system instead cut employees’ compensation by a third, Sweeney said.

The employees also claim GW failed to pay interest on the lost hours, according to the complaint.

When the University ultimately paid for some employees’ overtime, “they didn’t pay people the money to compensate for the time when they didn’t have it,” Sweeney said.

The claim from Driscoll, former special assistant in the Office of Teaching and Learning, also alleged that the University fired him with unjust reasoning, but claims from Harkless and Lewis did not echo Driscoll’s complaint.

While the case was originally filed as a collective lawsuit, the court has not yet approved the motion for class-action status, which would require the University to provide contact information for current and former employees potentially affected by the case.

Sweeney said he will file for notice of collective action “shortly,” but was unable to provide a more concrete timeline.

Over the last month, Sweeney has been reaching out to notify employees of the case and ask them to join. He declined to say how many people have been contacted, but confirmed that Harkless and Lewis joined after the outreach.

Harkless was not available for comment, and Lewis did not return a request for comment.

Last month, the University filed for a 30-day extension to respond to the claim, originally due by June 5.

Sweeney said GW attorneys were “trying to do their due diligence on the case to collect all the information” before responding to the claim. He noted that extensions are “not abnormal.”

When asked about GW’s request for more time, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said the University does not comment on pending litigation.

“A lot of people were disgruntled with this process, and some left [GW] as a result of it,” Sweeney said.

Potential complainants can still join the case, but Sweeney said as time passes, plaintiffs are only entitled to compensation within the three year statute of limitations.

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