The city of Guadalupe has responded to a federal lawsuit initiated by over a dozen city employees last year that alleges the city violated labor rights laws by not adequately compensating workers for overtime hours.

The lawsuit — which was filed in U. S. District Court for the Central District of California on May 16, 2018 — contends that the city used false hourly rates while calculating employees' regular rate of pay and failed to fully compensate employees at one and a half times the normal rate, as required by law.

There are 15 city employees named as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed by Westlake Village-based law firm Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone. The suit asks for a jury trial.

Michael McGill, the attorney representing the city employees, did not respond to interview requests.

The complaint states, “Defendants have paid plaintiffs the incorrect regular rate of pay, and thereby miscalculated the regular rate of pay, by using incorrect and false hourly rates of pay.”

According to the complaint, the employees informed the city about its alleged violation of federal labor laws and the city continued its practices without offering any “meaningful” response.

“Defendants knew or should have known of its obligation to pay overtime compensation to plaintiffs but nevertheless failed to honor that obligation,” the suit states.

The plaintiffs also argued that the city was not in compliance with the decision reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in Flores v. City of San Gabriel, which held that cash payments made to employees in lieu of health benefits must be included in the regular rate for overtime purposes under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The city employees are seeking liquidated damages from Guadalupe for the alleged unpaid overtime, as well as attorney’s fees. No dollar amount was included in the suit.

Guadalupe's response to the lawsuit was filed Feb. 1 by the Los Angeles-based law firm of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, denying the allegations and putting forward a number of defenses that it argued precluded the employees from seeking damages.

Elizabeth Arce, Jennifer Palagi and Jolina Abrena — attorneys for Guadalupe — did not respond to interview requests.

Guadalupe asserted that the plaintiffs did not exhaust all their administrative or collective bargaining options, that the city acted in good faith, and that the plaintiffs have “unclean hands” and did not actually work all the hours reported to the city.

The response also states that if Guadalupe employees were not compensated at the normal overtime rate, it wasn’t an actionable claim because the employees fall under a highly-paid employee/white collar employee exemption for overtime pay.

Guadalupe asked the court to enter a judgment in the city’s favor and award the city the cost of attorney fees.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed