The lawsuit's prelude was a 2011 investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, which found the Sheriff's Office had committed overtime violations against 65 child-protection investigators. The sheriff employs roughly 85 child-protection investigators overall, according to the department's review.
A federal investigator found the employees had not been compensated for hours they worked from home and were owed $402,049. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee agreed to change office policies for tracking overtime hours but refused to pay back wages.
In a letter to the Department of Labor, Peluso wrote that "as responsible law enforcement officers and public servants," Sheriff's Office leaders "need more data regarding the allegations of unpaid wages than your department is willing or able to provide at this time."
The efforts of federal investigators to arrive at an amount owed to the uncompensated employees was not necessarily a model of precision: According to a report by Department of Labor official Martin Altabas, the $402,049 figure was calculated by applying an "average" of four overtime hours per week for each of the 65 unpaid workers.
The individual settlement amounts paid out by the Sheriff's Office in the lawsuit ranged from $19,999 to $716. The average amount per plaintiff was $7,557, a sum that is actually greater than the average pay owed per worker under the Department of Labor calculation.
Brandon lawyer Tanya O'Connor, who represented the child-protection investigators in the suit, said her clients — who are no longer employed at the Sheriff's Office — believed litigation was their only recourse after the federal investigation failed to recoup their money.
"They thought, 'The federal government doesn't even have the authority to make them do the right thing,' " O'Connor said. "There was a lot of fear and intimidation."
In an affidavit filed in the case, John Sheppard — who worked at the Sheriff's Office from 2006 through 2011 and received a $10,574 settlement — said he served on the Child Protection Investigator Advisory Council, which offered feedback on investigators' working conditions to Gee's command staff.
"At each meeting" of the council, Sheppard wrote in his sworn affidavit, "between 80 percent and 90 percent of CPIs present raised their hands indicating that they had worked overtime for which they were not compensated."
by: Peter Jamison can be reached at or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.