A Violation of Due Process?

The Pinal County Board of Supervisors appears to be facing significant resentment from the men and women of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department. About two years ago, in an effort to control cost, the County arbitrarily limited overtime on a quarterly basis. When that limit is met, the County forces deputies to work overtime for unpaid compensation, which is essentially time off. However, the County appears to be illegally making money in the process.

 The legal perspective is quite interesting. Once a Deputy has worked overtime, the County incurs an accounting liability for the value of the overtime worked. The Deputy has an inherent interest in this value as a property value. It is the Deputy’s property.

 When the County placed an arbitrary limit on the overtime the Sheriff’s Office could work, it replaced overtime payment with unpaid “comp time.”  However, the County also stated that the Deputy had to take “comp” time off first before vacation time. As a result of the accumulated “comp” time, the Deputy was unable to access his vacation time.

 So we have a case of the County Government arbitrarily restricting overtime payment for work received from the Deputy. In addition, the County forces the Deputy to accept unpaid “comp” time in return for overtime worked.

 Unfortunately, the PCSO is understaffed due to hiring restrictions placed on it by the County. The understaffing creates a situation where the PCSO is forced to work overtime to meet minimum staffing levels that prevent the deputy from using up previously earned “comp” time. Some beats go unmanned due to understaffing. Because the Deputy cannot use up his earned “comp” time, the County prohibits him/her from using earned vacation time. At the end of the County’s Fiscal Year, any unused vacation is erased off the books.

 The Deputy has a property interest in his/her earned vacation time. The County recognizes this property interest as a liability to the County: they owe the Deputy the value of the vacation earned. When the County unilaterally took the earned vacation away from the Deputy, the County deprived the Deputy of his property interest without due process of law (5th and 14th Amendments) at a minimum.

 On what authority can the County deprive a Deputy of property rights obtained through honest labor? On what authority can the County manipulate internal policy to force its Deputies to not only work for “free” (unpaid “comp” time) but also sacrifice their earned vacation time (vested property right) due to the County’s own manipulation of policy?

 This issue has been referred by the Board of Supervisors to a work group to meet in October. This will be an interesting meeting as the two Democrat Supervisors do not like the Republican Sheriff. This issue is not only a morale and safety issue for the deputies but a potential legal issue for the County Supervisors.