Thursday, April 09, 2009

Taking Care of Business and Working Overtime

Was Dawn Hobbs exempt from overtime pay in her position as a reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press? The former reporter for the paper, who an administrative law judge ruled was wrongfully fired back in February of 2007, was hoping to get a quick and decisive "no" from Superior Court Judge James Brown on Wednesday, and thus narrow the issues in her case against the paper, which she alleges owes her a sum in the six figures on claims for unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, penalties, interest, and attorneys' fees.

Judging by the two volumes of pleadings this case has all ready generated, Hobbs wasn't the only one working overtime.

However, Brown found that Hobbs' status as a non-exempt employee would "not be dispositive" of her claim that the News-Press failed to pay her overtime compensation. In denying her motion for summary adjudication the judge ruled that whether Hobbs has sufficient evidence to prevail on her claim that she was not compensated for all of her overtime must be decided at a full-blown trial, presumably one before a jury.

In order to defend against Hobbs' claim, the News-Press was forced to concede what a good journalist she was pointing out that while she was at the paper she was winning awards for her reporting and getting constant praise in her evaluations from her supervisors.

One of the ways a news reporter can become "exempt" from overtime pay laws is when their primary duties consist of work that requires "invention, imagination and talent." In its written opposition the News-Press argued that Hobbs position as an "investigative reporter" required her to utilize all of those qualities.

In his moving papers, filed with the court, Hobbs attorney, Garry Tetalman, placed great emphasis on the fact that his client was paid on an hourly basis, claiming that fact itself demonstrates that she was not exempt from overtime pay requirements.

The News-Press has previously settled similar claims that it failed to pay overtime in a class action suit where former business reporter Hildy Medina was the named plaintiff. However, Hobbs opted out of the class in that suit so as to preserve her right to pursue her own individual claim against the paper.

That seems like a pretty smart move on Hobbs part since the News-Press employees who were members of the class in some cases got less than $100 in the settlement.

Although he "lost" Wednesday's motion, Tetalman found a silver lining in that the motion served its purpose in paving the way in removing any argument the News-Press can make about Hobbs being an exempt employee.

The case is set to go to trial on June 21 of this year.

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Jerry Roberts' new blog, Calbuzz was just named by the Washington Post as one of the top California political websites.

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Adam Lundquist, of Spencer and Adam from the 92.9 KJEE FM morning show, played California State Senator Tony Strickland in one-on-one in basketball during Wednesday morning's broadcast. Strickland, a former college basketball player, beat him 7 - 0.

No word on whether Adam will demand a recount.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and