St. Paul is preparing to pay $360,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging the city violated its own earned sick and safe time policy.
A proposed settlement agreement would offer payments to 480 part-time or temporary workers who were employed by St. Paul Parks and Recreation's aquatics division from Jan. 1, 2017, to May 24, 2019. The original lawsuit, filed by then-lifeguard and high school student Benjamin Smith, said the city did not inform aquatics workers of their right to paid time off and denied Smith paid sick time when he asked for it.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Dec. 1 on a 16-page deal that would then have to be certified by the court.
"We're pleased that the city is moving in the right direction and can now focus on enforcement and its own compliance moving forward," said Mark Smith, Benjamin's father and attorney.
"As a St. Paul resident and a St. Paul employer who has to comply with the ordinance, it is frustrating that the city put in place an ordinance it did not follow."
A provision of the proposed settlement says the city "denies it has in any way violated the ordinance."
"Our earned sick and safe time policy remains a vital benefit for our workers, especially amid the ongoing impacts of the pandemic," said Peter Leggett, communications director for Mayor Melvin Carter. "This settlement reflects our commitment to the values of this ordinance."
Under St. Paul's earned sick and safe time ordinance, which the council passed in 2016, employees can take paid time off to address their health needs or those of family members. The ordinance applies to St. Paul employees and workers at businesses within city boundaries.
Employees or former employees eligible for the settlement would split $156,000 based on the value of their accrued paid time off and the amount of time they worked for the city, according to the agreement. Those individuals, who would be notified by mail, could decline to participate in the settlement and retain the right to pursue separate legal action.
As part of the settlement, the city would also pay $200,000 in attorney fees and an additional $4,000 to Benjamin Smith for representing the class.
St. Paul has at times received criticism from workers' rights advocates, who say the city has not done enough to enforce the sick time law, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees can file complaints with the city's Labor Standards Unit if they believe their earned sick and safe time rights have been violated.