A former Barron County Jail sergeant will receive $50,000 as part of a settlement to a January 2018 lawsuit that alleged the County violated the Fair Labor and Standards Act by demoting him over a 2016 complaint about unpaid work time.
James Demers will receive $1,500 in back wages from the County, while the County’s insurance company Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corporation will issue the remaining $48,500. Demers will pay his lawyer from this money.
The insurance company will also pay $60,000 in fees and costs to the County’s legal representation at the law offices of Bakke Norman, S.C.
County representatives do not foresee the settlement affecting its insurance rates.
The total amount of money involved is $110,000.
In an email to the Chronotype, the County’s lawyer Kristofor Hanson said, “As has always been the case, the County denies Mr. Demers’ allegation and contends that it acted lawfully in all respects with regard to Mr. Demers.”
He said the resolution came at minimal cost to the county and was designed to mitigate the costs of further litigation.
The settlement agreement was officially finalized July 30 and obtained by the Chronotype through a records request to the County.
The lawsuit had been filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin and the County moved for summary judgment on Feb. 8, 2019 and in a May 29 Order and Opinion signed by District Judge William M. Conley, the court found evidence to support both parties’ claims.
The court believed there was evidence that Demers’ conduct was protected by the FLSA and that a reasonable jury could conclude he was demoted because of his complaint.
The FLSA protects employees from being discharged or discriminated against for filing any complaint covered by the FLSA, including overtime and minimum wage grievances.
However, the court did not find that enough evidence could be presented to convince a jury that Demers had been forced by the County to resign.
Demers resigned from his position on May 18, 2016. He had worked at the jail since 2002.
The summary judgment outlined the case, which goes back to March 10, 2016 when Demers sent an email to County Administrator Jeff French asking why jail employees were not getting paid for the 15 minutes before their shifts when they would receive information from the previous shift—known as “pass down” time.
French’s response had carbon copied Jail Captain Tim Evenson and HR director Rachael Richie. Demers was eventually demoted from Sergeant to jail staff, which during deposition Richie said she had been assured the demotion had nothing to do with Demers’ email to French.
Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said in deposition that Demers was demoted for “an accumulation of a lot of different things.”
The summary judgment outlined some of Demers’ past performance reviews as meeting expectations but also included interactions between him and superiors referring to improving work performance, including a written reprimand for failing to wear a body camera while on duty and for insubordination.
The County did look into Demers’ complaint.
Richie, in consultation with County Corporation Counsel John Muench, arranged for the law firm of Weld Riley to conduct an investigation to determine whether employees needed to be paid for “pass down” time, according to the summary judgement.
An invoice from Weld Riley obtained through a records request states the County was billed $3,026.50 for 16.3 hours of services that included document reviews and investigatory interviews regarding the pass down procedure.
After the investigation, in July 2016, the County paid 44 jail staff nearly $57,000 in pass down procedure back pay, according to records obtained through a records request.
The investigatory audit also found an overtime rate error in the Communication and Patrol divisions, resulting in $1,746.96 in back pay to over 30 other staff members.
The County installed time clocks at the jail sometime between April and May 2016, according to the judge’s summary.