King County/Metro Class Action

Clark v. King County

Bendich, Stobaugh and Strong, P.C. has settled a case against King County, which includes the former Metro, on behalf of common-law employees mislabeled as "independent contractors" and "agency" employees. Clark v. King County, No. 95-2-29890-7 SEA (King County Superior Court). The class sought back pay and compensation for pay inequity, health and other insured benefits, pension benefits, leave benefits (vacation, sick leave, etc.), a permanent injunction prohibiting the practice in the future, and other relief. On May 29, 1998, the Court entered summary judgment holding that the named plaintiffs are King County common-law employees. The Court also established a procedure for the identification of class members.

On May 13, 1999, the Honorable Kathleen Learned, Superior Court Judge, ruled that all mislabeled "temporary contract workers" who were paid through agencies and worked at the Department of Natural Resources are really employees of King County and are eligible for state pension benefits. The ruling would directly affect close to one hundred current and former DNR employees. The court also ruled that the burden of proof is on King County to show that individual workers paid through agencies are not employees.

In a related decision, Judge Learned ruled that the plaintiffs and class members who were called contract workers, but who were really employees, were entitled to insurance benefits under Metro's insurance contracts. As a result, the Court's ruling means that class members who worked for Metro six months or more were eligible for health and life insurance.

On June 7, 1999, Judge Learned ruled that King County, through its recently retained outside counsel, the law firm of Preston Gates and Ellis, was attempting to "relitigate" decisions in the case, including the 1998 decision that the plaintiffs are King County common-law employees. The Court granted a motion for a "protective order" to prevent King County from conducting more discovery and depositions concerning the plaintiffs' status as King County employees and other issues in the case which have been litigated. Judge Learned also assessed the County for $4,000 in plaintiffs' attorney fees for pursuing facts and issues already decided by the Court.

Notice to Claimants

Final Report of Claims Administrator was approved by Court on December 26, 2001. Checks will be mailed by late February to the first week of March 2002.

The Settlement Fund to be distributed to qualifying claimants has a value of $7.845 million. Pro rata payments to qualifying class members will be paid by King County by the first week of March 2002. The amount of the check cannot be determined at this time because the prorated amount is subject to taxes and, for some class members, deductions for PERS. King County will be making the appropriate deductions.

The Clark settlement has a total value of about $18 million. Of the total, $12 million will be prorated to class members for past benefits. Another $2 million is for retirement credit. Class members currently employed by King County will receive accrued vacation and sick leave for the time periods they were payrolled through agencies or paid as "independent contractors." Many of these employees will also receive back pay retroactive to July 1, 1998 if their prior service as a "contract worker" was not considered in setting their salaries.

The agreement requires the County to review work performed by "contract workers" and requires the County to either establish new positions or stop doing the work. The settlement requires the County to monitor its use of payroll agencies to prevent abuses in the future.

June 2002 - Class members may still make corrections to the calculation of the employee share of the PERS contribution. For example, if you discover your pay rate was less than shown on the "DRS Eligibility/Contribution Determination" form, and you have overpaid your PERS obligation, provide the correct information to King County as soon as possible. King County will not make any corrections between March 15 and May 15, but will then make the corrections online with DRS. DRS will refund the overpayment, which will be paid back to you.

If you discover corrections several months from now, contract DRS directly at 1-800-547-6657. DRS will explain how to correct your PERS account. If you did not receive PERS information, contact King County. Questions about King County's PERS materials should be directed to King County. Contact Healther Poulsen, email heather.poulsen@metrokc.gov or fax (206) 296-3462 (attn:  Heather Poulsen).

If you received a settlement check and still have not cashed it, cash your check immediately. Failure to cash your check can result in your losing your money.

Case History

October 1999 - Judge Learned ruled that long-term "contract" workers paid through temporary and staffing firms to work for the former Metro agency were legally Metro/County employees.

August 1999 - Judge Learned ruled that the named plaintiffs and similarly-situated class members who worked for Metro were entitled to leave benefits - vacation, holidays, sick leave.

May 1999 - Judge Learned ruled that all mislabeled "contract workers" who were paid through agencies and worked at the Dept. of Natural Resources are employees of King County and are eligible for pension benefits. In a related decision, the court ruled that the plaintiffs and class members who were called contract workers, but who were really employees, were entitled to insurance benefits under Metro's insurance contracts.

May 1998 - The Honorable J. Kathleen Learned, Superior Court Judge, ruled that the named plaintiffs are King County common-law employees.

December 1995 - The lawsuit was filed against King County, which includes the former Metro agency, on behalf of common-law employees mislabeled as "contract workers," "independent contractors" and "temporary agency" employees. Clark v. King County, No. 95-2-29890-7 SEA (King County Superior Court).

In 1997 a similar class action lawsuit (Logan v. King County) was settled involving long-term County employees labeled as "temporary" or "part-time" by the County to deny the employees health and other benefits. In the Logan case the employees were paid on the "official" County payroll, while in this Clark case they were sent to "temp" agencies for paycheck processing to avoid the appearance that the workers were Metro/County employees.

Settlement Status

Settlement checks mailed by mailing house during week of March 25, 2002. If you are a qualifying class member and did not receive your check or if you have other questions, contact class counsel at the above address or email lawfirm@bs-s.com.

Claims Administrator

Clark Claims Administrator
P.O. Box 3560
Portland, OR 97208-3560
1-800-966-1348

Case Documents

Related Press

  • Press Release
  • BNA Daily Labor Report & Daily Employee Relations Report 1/4/00 - Feature Report on Payrolling and King County and Los Angeles Cases (Not available on the Internet)

Counsel

  • Judith E. Bendich
  • Steven K. Strong