The Santa Barbara News-Press has settled a lawsuit filed against it by two former newsroom employees who alleged the paper had shortchanged them on overtime pay and on meal and rest periods, all required by California law. The settlement means that any person who has worked for the paper in the past six years, regardless of whether they lost out on overtime pay or vacation time, is eligible to take a bit out of the $140,000 settlement.
The suit was originally filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court on October 11, 2006 by former reporter Hildy Medina. In February 2007, the suit was amended to include former reporter Anna Davison. The two alleged that the newspaper failed to pay overtime to employees who worked more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours a week. It also alleged that the News-Press did not provide its employees with meal and rest periods that are required by California law. In addition, they also claimed that if, by the end of the year, an employee hadn’t used vacation time, the paper’s management would eliminate that accrual, a violation of state law.
The settlement allows for any person who worked at the paper during the claim period, which begins in October 2002 and will continue for another three weeks or so until the settlement is finalized, to receive part of the money. It also allows for anyone with documentation which proves they didn’t receive proper payment for hours worked or vacation time earned to file a claim against the paper. The reason to do it in bulk, according to attorney Bruce Anticouni, the attorney of record who specializes in employment litigation, is that there wasn’t sufficient documentation to which employees missed out on the funds and time off afforded to them.
Medina and Davison, who are two of the dozens of newsroom staff who’ve left the paper in the last two years, decided that while their case was strong, there was a chance the claim wouldn’t be class action certified as many of those involved had different individual circumstances surrounding their employment. “There was too much diversity with respect to the facts,” Anticouni explained. “This way seemed like it was going to allow anyone who worked there to get some [of the settlement].” In addition to whatever they are entitled to as part of the group of former employees receiving a slice of money, Medina and Davison will each receive $5,000 in addition to whatever they are entitled to as members of the class, for being the named plaintiffs.
Barry Cappello, a Santa Barbara attorney who has represented the paper in many of its court cases, was out of town Thursday. Questions sent via email to him hadn’t been answered as of Friday evening. As part of the settlement, the paper’s management “denies any liability or wrongdoing of any kind associated with the claims alleged,” adding that a class action suit would’ve been inappropriate. “Defendant contends, among other things, that it has complied at all times with the Labor Code, the California Business and Professions Code, and all applicable wage and hour laws and regulations,” according to the settlement agreement, which was filed Wednesday.