High court rejects bid for overtime It's 40 hours a week for state employees

February 25, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- More than 38,000 state employees in Maryland lost out yesterday in their nine-month court fight to receive overtime pay when they work more than 35 1/2 hours a week -- as a governor's order now requires them to do every week.

The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, turned aside an appeal by an employees' organization and a number of individual state workers making a constitutional challenge to the year-old order by Gov. William Donald Schaefer setting all state workers' regular workweek at 40 hours.

Stephen B. Awalt of Towson, a lawyer for the state workers, said the court's action yesterday meant an end to the effort to get overtime pay through legal action. "We are disappointed," the attorney said.

Last July, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the Schaefer order, which had the effect of increasing the workweek by 4 1/2 hours for 33,438 employees in a number of state agencies and another 5,262 employees of the University of Maryland System.

All of those workers had worked a 35 1/2 -hour week before the governor's order.

They contended in the lawsuit that their workweek was virtually guaranteed, like a contract, and that the governor's order prolonging their regular hours with no added pay broke that agreement.

Mr. Schaefer issued the order making a 40-hour week the norm last Feb. 27.

The governor cited no emergency and no fiscal crisis, but did say that "during these difficult fiscal times, it is prudent to search for savings for the taxpayers."

The appeal challenging the order was filed by the Maryland Classified Employees Association and by four state employees who have since been required to work 40 hours at the same pay they received when their norm was 35 1/2 hours.

Those four are Denise Kable, a public affairs specialist in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services; Teresa Whitmore, office secretary with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Diana Phelps, services supervisor with the Maryland Aviation Administration; and Rommani Amenu-El, who works in support enforcement for the Department of Human Resources.

Their challenge was turned down originally by Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. last July 9. Acting swiftly, the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, agreed with Judge Thieme's decision eight days later.

"We're extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court didn't see merit in our case," said Janet Anderson, spokeswoman for the MCEA. "The state should uphold its implied contract with employees -- that if they work 40 hours, they should be paid for 40 hours."

The state has had an "implied contract" with its employees for more than 40 years, Ms. Anderson said.

"We believe the state interfered with that contract by promulgating that executive order."

K? The Supreme Court decision came the same day that the House

Appropriations Committee killed a bill that would have restored the 35 1/2 -hour workweek for state employees who were working the shorter week.

The past year has brought furloughs, layoffs, higher health-insurance costs and no raises for state employees.

"It's unfortunate because the state is still looking for its state employees to balance the budget," Ms. Anderson said. "We feel they have sacrificed enough."

The union will focus now on defeating bills that would take away some of their holidays and personal leave days, Ms. Anderson said.


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