Defense Contractor |On Hook for Back Wages

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Computer Sciences Corporation was ordered to pay five former employees more than $350,000 in back wages for work performed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, a federal judge ruled.
     As recounted by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton in his ruling, prospective employees of Computer Sciences Corporation were asked to agree to separate terms of employment — one for work performed in the United States; the other, for work performed overseas in support of a contract with the Department of Defense.
     The terms letters establish the employee’s base pay rate and any other compensation he might be entitled to for overseas work.
     The five plaintiffs all sued Computer Sciences for breach of contract, although one also raised other employment-related claims.
     Central to the argument put forward in their complaint was a difference of opinion over exactly what the compensation provisions in the employment letters meant. The plaintiffs maintained that they were entitled to an hourly wage for all hours worked; Computer Sciences Corporation argued they were due an annual salary based on the hourly wage multiplied by 52, 40-hour weeks.
     In their complaint, the plaintiffs accuse Computer Sciences of denying them overtime wages while working up to 84 hours per week in support of the defense contract in the Middle East between Sept. 2010 and June 2012.
     They further allege they were directed to record only 12 hours per day on their electronic time sheets, and if that reported the actual, greater number of hours they worked, supervisors would change those time sheets.
     The plaintiffs said when they made inquiries about the discrepancy between their pay and what they had expected to receive, they were rebuffed by the company’s management. One of the plaintiffs, Donell Ellis, claims he was fired after the company discovered he had spoken with attorneys about filing a Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit.
     After reviewing the parties’ arguments, Judge Hilton found that the relevant working in the plaintiffs’ Foreign Trade Letters, states “Your base weekly salary will not change as a result of this assignment.”
     “Even assuming arguendo that the terms are ambiguous. Plaintiffs still prevail as CSC drafted the offer letter and Virginia law requires ambiguous terms be construed against the drafter,” Hilton wrote.
     He continued: “Plaintiffs F.T.L.s do not change the terms of their offer letters when they state their ‘base weekly salary will not change’ while they work overseas. That the F.T.L.s do ‘not change’ their base pay suggests the base pay was established outside the four corners of the F.T.L.s, and that is the case; Plaintiffs’ pay was established in their offer letters at an hourly rate.
     “Even if the F.T.L.’s phrase ‘base weekly salary’ is ambiguous – a ‘salary’ could imply annual pay instead of weekly pay – it too must be construed against C.S.C. as the drafter. The terms of the F.T.L.s did not transform Plaintiffs from hourly employee to salaried employees. Under the terms of the offer letters and F.T.L.s, Plaintiffs should have been paid for every hour they worked while employed by C.S.C.,” Hilton wrote.
     Richard Adamonis, a spokesman for Computer Sciences Corp., said the company does not agree with the ruling and intends to file an appeal.
     

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