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Eckerd faces lawsuit over overtime pay

Five photo lab managers say they should get paid extra despite their job descriptions.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published September 5, 2003

Five Southwest Florida photo lab managers have filed a class-action lawsuit against Eckerd Corp., alleging the Largo drugstore chain has illegally denied them overtime pay.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, the suit seeks to represent all Eckerd photo lab managers and supervisors, contending they deserve overtime pay despite job descriptions that regard them as salaried managers.

Federal wage and hour laws requires employees be paid time-and-a-half if they work more than 40 hours a week. Salaried management jobs generally are exempt from the requirement along with many professions. So a critical element of the case is whether the lab managers and supervisors are truly in management or are among those professions who must be paid overtime despite their salaried status.

The suit argues Eckerd photo lab supervisors manage only the store photo processing lab, not a minimum of two employees.

About a third of Eckerd's 2,600 stores have photo labs.

"We don't comment on ongoing litigation," said Eckerd spokesman John Sensabaugh. "But we do comply with all state and federal laws."

Initially filed in Lee County Circuit Court, the case was subsequently shifted to federal court. Eckerd's attorneys argued the workers are not entitled to overtime and that the five named plaintiffs "never worked in excess of 40 hours in any given workweek" during their employment with Eckerd.

The suit was filed by photo lab worker Rhonda Kline of Lehigh Acres and former Eckerd employees Joyce Brindle of Bonita Springs, and Lance Teblum, Bernadette Teblum and Nancy Civitarese of Cape Coral.

Lance Teblum, for instance, was a photo lab supervisor from 1996 to 1997 and a lab manager for two years. Yet he never supervised two or more full-time employees, so he was entitled to overtime, the suit alleges.

Such debates are common in retailing where managers frequently are supervisors in title only. In racial and sex discrimination cases, some supermarket chains have argued their deli and bakery managers are part of the management in meeting minority representation goals, yet they remain paid as hourly employees.

The U.S. Senate is now considering whether to block the Department of Labor's first major rewrite of the 50-year-old Fair Labor Standards law. Otherwise, many professions will lose their rights to overtime pay. The new rules also redefine what types of "assistant manager" in the retailing industry are entitled to overtime. The new rule also would require that anyone who earns less than $425 a week be entitled to overtime regardless of job title. Currently, the maximum is $155, a wage standard unchanged since 1975.

The National Retail Federation, the National Association of Chain Drugstores and the International Mass Retail Association are among 40 business groups lobbying senators not to block the new rules, which the industry says will save retail companies millions of dollars in suits over overtime pay disputes.

The Fort Myers suit seeks back overtime and other unspecified damages for Eckerd photo lab supervisors, but the initial pleadings do not say what years of employment would be covered. U.S. District Judge John Steele would have to decide if the on-the-job experience of the five named plaintiffs are representative of most Eckerd photo lab supervisors before the case could be certified as a class action.

Two years ago Eckerd reached an out-of-court settlement in an overtime case filed on behalf of the chain's 5,600 full-time pharmacists. As salaried professionals, the pharmacists claimed they were being docked pay if they did not work a full 42-hour week, but were not paid overtime if they worked more than that. Terms of the out-of-court settlement were not disclosed.

- Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.

[Last modified September 5, 2003, 04:53:59]

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