HAMMOND | Two Northwest Indiana women are suing the Indiana Department of Children and Family Services in U.S. District Court over claims of unpaid overtime and other unfair labor practices.
Employed as family case managers in the department’s Gary office, Arlene Nuñez, of East Chicago, and Veronica Martinez, of Valparaiso, allege in their federal lawsuit they often worked outside of regular office hours responding to emergencies and were forced by supervisors to work through their lunch hours. When they complained about working through their half-hour lunch period, a supervisor said, “Don’t even bring it up,” the complaint stated.
Nuñez and Martinez claim, that in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, they did not receive overtime pay for extensive time spent outside their regular hours responding to emergencies, conducting investigations and writing reports, which they say supervisors required to be completed by 9 a.m. the next day. They also claim their frequent on-call status for emergencies regularly prevented them from five hours of continuous sleep.
The lawsuit claims Nuñez and Martinez performed two eight-hour weekday shifts and one 12-hour weekend shift per month — on-call time occurring outside their regular hours during times when the Indiana Department of Children and Family Services offices are closed. Additionally, they were required to respond to calls for emergency investigations outside of both their regular hours and their scheduled monthly on-call time.
In addition, the plaintiffs claim their supervisors would deduct time they had worked in excess of 40 hours in one workweek and credit it to another workweek in which they worked less than 40 hours. Their employer would then treat that shifted time as straight time, and compensate them for that time at their ordinary rate of pay, the lawsuit stated.
Nuñez and Martinez are seeking an injunction for cessation of the alleged unfair labor practices, back pay and any related attorney fees. Their attorney, Adam Sedia, of Dyer, said their potential monetary damage award represents “tens of thousands of dollars.” By a “liquidated damages” statue, the amount of back pay owed would double per a settlement award, he explained. He noted that settlement over lost wages can go back only three years, and believes the alleged unfair practices go back at least that far.
Sedia noted that other Indiana Department of Children and Family Services employees, who believe they were similarly wronged, can legally opt in to the Nuñez-Martinez “collective action” lawsuit or pursue their cases separately. Thus, a judge could provide other employees back pay relief and associated damages should they show just cause.
The Indiana Department of Children and Family Services has declined comment on the pending litigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.