Potential class-action suit seeks overtime pay for Virginia General Assembly aides

Former aide to GOP Del. Marie March claims she did private work in public job

By: - October 20, 2022 2:49 pm

Del. Marie March, R-Floyd. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A former aide to Virginia Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, has filed a civil lawsuit against her onetime boss, claiming March asked her to do private work in a taxpayer-funded job and raising the prospect of class-action litigation on overtime pay for hundreds of legislative staffers.

Tambra Lynn Blankenship, a Giles County resident who briefly worked for March over the summer, filed the suit last week in Richmond City Circuit Court. 

She’s seeking a judgment of at least $70,000 and court approval to initiate a class action that could involve 500 to 1,000 legislative aides whom Blankenship’s lawyers argue may have been improperly denied overtime pay by the General Assembly.

“State law requires that [legislative aides] be provided compensation for every hour worked,” the complaint says.

A woman who answered the phone at March’s district office Thursday said the delegate had decided not to comment.

Ironically, the case targeting General Assembly labor practices appears to center around an overtime bill the General Assembly passed in 2021. The bill was rolled back this year, and the suit only applies to legislative staffers who worked more than 40 hours in that yearlong window.

A state human resources document describing the impact of the 2021 law, an attempt to better align the state with a federal law requiring employers to pay some workers time and a half if they exceed 40 hours, said it allowed state agencies to be sued in class-action lawsuits. However, the idea that aides could be eligible for overtime came as a surprise to some on Capitol Square, where staffers have long been considered ineligible for overtime in unpredictable, salaried jobs.

The House of Delegates clerk’s office, which handles some of the body’s administrative functions but leaves individual delegates largely free to run their own offices, said it was looking into the matter and could not immediately comment. The office of Attorney General Jason Miyares also said it was looking into the issue. Neither the state nor March have filed a formal response in court.

The suit, filed Oct. 13 by attorneys with Roanoke-based Strelka Employment Law, says legislative aides are expected to be on call “around the clock” for state lawmakers, which regularly leads them to work well above 40 hours a week.

In more specific allegations against March, Blankenship claims she was asked to perform more than 40 hours of work per work, including tasks that had nothing to do with official General Assembly business.

“Del. March repeatedly tasked the named Plaintiff with job duties that benefited either a business enterprise of Del. March or a personal matter for Del. March or both,” the lawsuit says, adding none of the work fell within the “essential job duties” of a legislative aide.

The suit also claims March “directed employees to intentionally falsify time records to illustrate that employees were working less hours than the total number of hours actually worked.”

The 2021 overtime legislation, which generally made it easier for more workers to claim overtime pay, included a line waiving the state’s “sovereign immunity” protection from overtime claims, according to Blankenship’s complaint.

“The Virginia Overtime Wage Act was later amended to withdraw the waiver of sovereign immunity,” the suit says.

Thomas E. Strelka, an attorney representing Blankenship in the case, said the class-action status would only apply to people who worked as legislative aides during the period when the state had waived its immunity from overtime claims. If the class-action status is approved, Strelka said affected employees can expect to get a mailer asking if they want to participate in the suit.

“It would go to current and former [legislative aides] for them to opt in,” Strelka said, insisting no exemption in federal law applies to legislative aide positions.

The suit doesn’t go into detail about what kind of unofficial work Blankenship was asked to perform for March, and Strelka declined to elaborate.

March, a first-term legislator, is locked in an acrimonious election fight with Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick, after the two conservative legislators were drawn into the same district. Last month, March claimed Williams assaulted her at a Republican fundraiser in Wytheville. Williams said the encounter was an accidental bump that March is embellishing for political gain.

The two legislators are expected to compete for the GOP nomination in the Republican-heavy district next year.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.