Sweetwater commissioners on Monday voted 4-1 not to settle the case of a K-9 unit officer seeking $25,000 in overtime pay.
Jenna Méndez of Sweetwater Police sued the city in federal court under the Fair Labor Standards Act to collect overtime pay for taking care of two dogs for a period of three years.
City Attorney Ralph Ventura attended a court-ordered settlement conference by U.S. Magistrate Judge John J. O’Sullivan on Nov. 4, and presented a proposed agreement to city commissioners on Monday night. Commissioners Jose Bergouignan, Isolina Maroño, Jose Guerra, Catalino Rodriguez and Orlando Lopez were present; Commissioners Manuel Duasso and Prisca Barreto were absent.
“I’m uncomfortable negotiating any settlement so early in the case without a deposition,” Ventura said. “I would be more comfortable having Ms. Méndez under oath.”
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Four commissioners present echoed his opinion, saying that settling in this case would set a precedent and entitle other K-9 officers to sue the city for compensation.
“We’re setting precedent now. Everybody is going to line up and get a $25,000 check,” Bergouignan said.
Lopez abstained from voting on the resolution.
Although Méndez is the only officer in the department with two dogs, other officers could demand compensation for the care and maintenance of their dogs for previous years.
“No K-9 was ever paid for canine food, or leashes and stuff,” Police Chief Jesus Menocal said. “They started that on this new budget.”
Méndez — daughter of Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell, the former Homestead mayor who recently lost a County Hall reelection bid — had been assigned two dogs during the previous administration, according to Menocal, but the second dog was taken away after about eight months.
For taking care of the dogs, Méndez was paid 40 hours a week for a 35-hour work week, Menocal said. The police department usually compensates K-9 officers an extra four hours pay per week.
Also, Méndez trained only one dog and chose to train in West Palm Beach at the city’s expense instead of in Miami-Dade County, Menocal said.
“She had a credit card from the mayor’s office with which she was able to fuel up. So that was taken care of,” Menocal said.
Méndez believes she should be compensated more because she had a second dog.
“My big concern is the second dog,” Ventura said. “I can’t believe that if you have one dog and you get a second, that you get no extra time. I don’t know if you’d necessarily get twice the time, but maybe a couple of more hours — I don’t know.”