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A group of county bus drivers and attendants has filed a class action lawsuit against the Charles County Board of Education, Superintendent James E. Richmond, two assistant superintendents and several bus contractors claiming they are owed years of unpaid wages and overtime.

Still in its early stages, the lawsuit claims that the county’s bus drivers were paid not for the actual hours they worked, but according to a “time and mileage sheet” approved by the board before each school year that “assigns and limits the hours for which each bus driver employee will be compensated” by estimating the amount of time it would take to complete each bus route.

Drivers were not paid for extra time needed to fuel, clean or wash their buses as required by the board, or for instances when traffic or weather led to delays, the lawsuit claims.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, hourly workers are entitled to wages for each hour they work, including “time and one-half” wages for each hour worked beyond a standard 40-hour workweek.

The board “mandated and enforced policies and practices to falsely and erroneously prevent application of the law” and “intentionally misled its contractors, associates, and employees to ensure that the federal and state laws and regulations were not followed and unilaterally mandated that the law be substituted with [its] own employment and pay procedures,” the suit states.

The board’s “control was so absolute that it also unilaterally determined that the FLSA did not apply to bus drivers and bus contractors,” the lawsuit states.

Charles County Assistant superintendents Keith Hettel and Charles Wineland also are named as defendants.

The school system has asked for the case to be dismissed “on a number of grounds,” spokeswoman Katie O’Malley-Simpson said.

“The bus drivers are saying that they are entitled to overtime from their employers,” she said. “But the bus drivers do not work for the board of education. They work for the contractors that pay them.”

The plaintiffs claim they were employed by the board, even if indirectly via the contractors.

“The bus contracting and operating entities acted as a straw man for the employment of the [bus drivers and attendants] by the [b]oard,” the suit states.

“I'm not certain that it actually makes a big difference,” said Crofton attorney Scott Conwell, who is representing the plaintiffs. “It appears that wages were just passed through [from the board] to the contractors.”

Bus contractors Keller Transportation in Waldorf, Koch Trucking in La Plata and H & H Bus Service in Bryans Road also are named as defendants.

“At this point all I can say is I do know about [the lawsuit],” but Keller Transportation has not received any additional information or hired private counsel, General Manager David Richardson said.

Both Keller employees listed as plaintiffs in the suit still work for the company, he added.

Mark Koch of Koch Trucking referred all questions to Greenbelt attorney Bruce Marcus, who did not return a message seeking comment.

H & H Bus Service owner Beverly Hill did not return a message seeking comment.

Initially filed in October, the suit originally named all seven board members as defendants, but their names will be dropped by March 9, Conwell said.

An April 27 hearing has been scheduled in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to consider all pending motions in the case, including the one to dismiss.

The suit presents a shift lasting from 5:20 a.m. to 5:05 p.m. as a “typical” workday for a full-time bus driver working five days a week during the school year, resulting in a 58.75-hour workweek and 18.75 hours in overtime pay.

It also estimates that the school board and bus contractors failed to pay each of the county’s estimated 287 bus drivers $53,460 in earned wages over a three-year period, which means they each would be entitled to $106,920 under the FLSA, which stipulates that underpaid workers are entitled to double their wages. Under state law, the damages would triple.

All told, the lawsuit claims estimated damages of $10.2 million per year under federal law and $15.3 million per year under state law.

There also is evidence that Koch Trucking withheld wages during the school year and dispersed them during the summer months to keep its school bus drivers from claiming unemployment benefits, Conwell said.

jnewman@somdnews.com