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School officials asked to stop negotiations

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Dec. 1, 2000
HATTIESBURG Lawyers and public school officials have been asked by U.S. Magistrate John Roper not to contact employees who may be affected by a class-action lawsuit involving overtime compensation.
An official court order to that effect may be issued in a week to 10 days by a U.S. District Court judge from Mississippi's Southern District.
The lawsuit involves employees who work two jobs in public school districts like a cafeteria worker who also drives a bus. These employees may work more than 40 hours a week at both jobs, but are paid separately for each job. The lawsuit alleges employees in this situation should have received overtime pay in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Attorneys for 31 school districts including John Compton and Robert Compton, who represent the Lauderdale County School District and the Meridian Public School District, met in Hattiesburg Thursday with the magistrate and the attorneys representing the employees who who have filed the lawsuit.
Robert Compton said Roper did not issue a formal order, "but basically said, Put a freeze on everything until you receive an order.'"
Compton said the order will set the "rules of engagement" for school district officials, their attorneys and plaintiffs' attorneys.
U.S. Magistrate Eugene Bogen handed down a similar ruling earlier this month barring school officials in Mississippi's Northern District from contacting affected employees.
He said the order could also determine how long school employees have to "opt in" on the lawsuit and it may set up rules governing settlements.
Compton said he expects a U.S. District Court judge to be appointed to hear all the Wage and Hour complaints in the Southern District.
The magistrate's order in Mississippi's Northern District has been appealed by school officials. Compton said the Southern District magistrate wants the upcoming ruling to come from a district judge whose authority is more far-reaching in case of contests or appeals.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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