February 13, 2013 at 3:11 PM
PATERSON, NJ – The municipal budget director has filed a lawsuit against the city saying it has violated federal and state labor laws by not paying him more than $25,000 worth of overtime he says he accumulated since September 2011.
The director, Russell Forenza, said in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Newark last month that he had been receiving overtime for 20 years. The lawsuit says Forenza normally worked 45 hours per week over that time. He would get overtime whenever he worked more than 35 hours under an arrangement that paid him at his regular rate of $58.05 per hour for 36 to 40 hours in a week and a time-and-a-half rate for any hours more than 40, the lawsuit said.
But those payments stopped after Sept. 19, 2011, the lawsuit said. That was when controversy erupted because of the city’s overtime checks issued to the mayor and other high-ranking officials in the aftermath of the post-Hurricane Irene floods. In December 2011, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs told the city that Forenza, as budget director, should be considered a salaried employee who is not entitled to overtime.
Forenza’s attorney, Susan Champion, did not return a phone message seeking her comment on the case. Champion previously had worked as Paterson’s Corporation Counsel when Jose “Joey” Torres was mayor.
Forenza declined to comment on the case, referring questions to Champion. In the past, Forenza has asserted that he qualified for overtime because he does not meet the criteria for “exempt” or management employees. He has based that argument on the assertion that he does not have the authority to hire or fire employees and that he supervises just one person.
Mayor Jeffery Jones said Forenza had “every right to file” the lawsuit against the city. “I don’t begrudge anyone from seeing what they’re entitled to,’’ said the mayor.
Jones said the city over the past year has been in frequent communication with the state over the question of which employees are entitled to overtime. “I need clarity,’’ Jones said.
In his complaint, Forenza says the city has not paid him for any of the 375.75 hours of overtime he says he worked between Sept. 19, 2011 and the date when he filed the suit last month. He puts the total amount at $25,752.43.
The lawsuit says the city is violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law and Wage Payment Law. The lawsuit contends that Forenza should have been paid overtime as a “non-exempt” employee.
But Councilman Kenneth Morris, chairman of the finance committee, said his understanding of federal labor law was that Forenza should be treated as a non-exempt employee who does not get overtime. “If Russ Forenza is not happy with the amount of worked required of him, he’s always free to see employment elsewhere,’’ Morris said.