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Eckerd OT suit opens to hundreds

A judge rules that as many as 1,000 former Florida store managers can join the suit, which claims the chain improperly avoided paying them overtime wages.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published February 25, 2005


Karl Bloomfield managed Eckerd drugstores for 20 years in Broward County. But he frequently labored hundreds of extra hours on what he hardly considered management tasks.

"Unloading trucks, stockroom maintenance, cleaning floors, stocking shelves and cleaning toilets," said the 54-year-old Eckerd veteran who was paid $44,000 a year in salary and bonuses but didn't get a nickel extra for one week when he worked 108 hours.

He estimated spending about 80 percent of his time doing the same jobs hourly workers did - running the register, fixing displays and firing the price sticker gun.

Bloomfield is one of what could be as many as 1,000 former Florida Eckerd store managers claiming the former Largo drugstore avoided paying him tens of thousands of dollars in overtime by improperly making him part of the salaried management.

The chain, which was then owned by J.C. Penney Co. Inc., termed the case "frivolous and without merit."

Filed in 2002, the case took on new life recently when U.S. District Court Judge Cecelia Altongain Miami ordered more than 1,000 former Eckerd store managers be notified they have a chance to join the collective action. Unlike a class action suit, which seeks damages on behalf of a group of people, store managers would have to join the case to share in any award from their former employer. Case information can be found at www.EckerdOvertime.com J.C. Penney sold Eckerd in pieces to Jean Coutu Group of Montreal and CVS Corp. of Woonsocket, R.I., last year. But Penney retained responsibility for outstanding suits.

Under federal employment law, companies need not pay overtime to salaried workers they consider part of the management. But there are tests to determine whether an employer has properly classified someone as a manager.

Bloomfield's attorney, Josh Fuller of Coral Gables, argues that Eckerd store managers functioned more like working foreman in that they frequently performed the jobs of hourly store workers.

Eckerd store managers had the power to hire people, make recommendations for firing and were in charge of their stores, including setting work schedules for six or more employees who worked under them. They also could settle customer complaints, reduce prices and give away products in a store that typically generated $3-million to $4-million a year in sales.

Particularly grating to Bloomfield were "work parties" called by district managers to straighten up problem stores. Typically teams of six to 20 people, most of them store managers, were called in on off-duty time to clean, stock shelves and spruce up displays in stores that had gone to seed.

Bloomfield, who now works as mortgage broker, said he was summoned to a dozen work parties annually, which dragged his pay rate down to $8 an hour.

The judge has not ruled on the merits of the case and or Eckerd's defenses. Eckerd attorneys argue the case was filed after the statute of limitations expired, work parties were a worthy "management tool" and Florida is an "at-will" state where executive employees without a contract can leave if they do not accept the rules.

The complaint seeks an unspecified cash settlement for Florida Eckerd store managers dating to August 2000.

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

[Last modified February 25, 2005, 00:51:16]


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