By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
A former sportswriter for the Missoulian filed a lawsuit in District Court last week claiming the newspaper withheld several hundred hours of overtime pay while expecting an impossible workload for a 40-hour work week.
Kyle Sample, who was employed as a full-time sportswriter at the Missoulian from January 2015 to September 2016, filed the suit in Missoula District Court, naming editor Kathy Best and former sports editor Bob Meseroll as defendants.
“During his employment with the Missoulian, (Sample) had reason to object to the paper’s policies regarding overtime work and pay,” the suit contends. “He regularly worked well over the 40-hour work week expected by law, but rarely was actually paid for this time.”
The lawsuit, filed by Olivia Erickson with Lowy Law in Missoula, alleges that Sample worked more than 400 hours of unpaid overtime during his tenure with the Missoulian, including the last month of his employment.
According to the suit, the paper’s management team was aware of the hours Sample worked.
“His supervisor told him there was concern with the amount of hours he was reporting, so he needed to keep an eye on them,” the lawsuit contends. “And yet the amount of work he was expected to cover and produce would not allow him to maintain only 40 hours of work a week.”
Montana’s Wages and Wage Protection Act requires an employer to pay its employees all earned wages, including overtime. An employer may not employ a worker more than 40 hours a week unless the employee receives compensation at a rate of not less than one and one-half times the employee’s hourly wage rate.
An employer who fails to pay its employee for earned overtime may be subject to penalties of up to 110 percent of the unpaid overtime, according to state law.
“Sample worked many hours of overtime during his time with the Missoulian and was unpaid for most of them,” the suit alleges. “The last time when defendants failed to pay (Sample) for overtime was during his last month on staff at the Missoulian.”
Erickson said Sample is seeking what he’s owed by the newspaper, along with court fees and attorney’s costs. Lee Enterprises, the Missoulian’s corporate owner, has not yet responded to the suit.
“If you’re a non-exempt employee, the law requires that you get paid overtime,” Erickson said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Kyle received what he was due. He’s just looking for what’s due.”
Bob Meseroll, who is named as one of the defendants in the case, was one of three newsroom staffers laid off by the Missoulian last month. Meseroll served as the sports editor and had worked at the paper for 25 years.
Missoulian publisher Mark Heintzelman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He also has not returned calls regarding the latest round of layoffs.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org