Appeals court sides with Missouri prison guards on back pay

PRISON GUARDS who should have been paid for their pre- and post-shift activity won their case last week before the Missouri Court of Appeals, which upheld a $114 million jury verdict in favor of the guards. – Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District on Oct. 7 upheld a $113.7 million verdict in favor of state prison guards who filed a class-action lawsuit seeking back pay for time they were required to work without compensation.

The Missouri Corrections Officers Association, which represents guards at prisons throughout the state, originally filed the lawsuit in 2012, alleging the state Department of Corrections breached its contract with the association by requiring guards to perform mandatory, but off-the-clock, duties before and after their shifts. A Cole County judge ruled in the association’s favor in August 2018.

The Missouri Department of Corrections argued on appeal that the officers’ pre- and post-shift tasks weren’t compensable because they weren’t integral to their principal work activities.

But the court rejected that argument, holding it was undisputed that the officers were on duty and expected to respond from the moment they entered the facility.

The department is expected to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, but even if the guards score another court victory it is unclear when, or even if, the state would pay the $113.7 million, plus interest, owed to them since the General Assembly would first have to appropriate the funding, and coming up with such a large amount could prove difficult without cuts elsewhere in the state budget.


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