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Stevedore firm at Port of Charleston agrees to settle overtime lawsuit

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Stevedores supervise members of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422, shown here competing for job assignments at the Charleston headquarters. A group of stevedores have agreed to settle a lawsuit against a company serving the Port of Charleston. File/Wade Spees/Staff

A company that hires stevedores to work at the Port of Charleston has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by employees who say they weren't paid overtime while supervising International Longshoremen's Association dock workers.

SSA Cooper LLC will pay $694,553 to 25 stevedores and their attorney under terms of a settlement agreement filed Friday in federal court. The deal must be approved by a judge before it is final. No hearing date has been scheduled.

Justin Chaplin, a former SSA Cooper employee, filed the class-action lawsuit in 2015, alleging the company violated federal wage laws by failing to pay overtime when he and other stevedores worked more than 40 hours in one week.

SSA Cooper had denied any wrongdoing, saying Chaplin and other stevedores are exempt from overtime laws because they are "executive employees" who make salaries of more than $40,000 a year.

A trial had been scheduled for last month, but was canceled while settlement negotiations took place.

Chaplin will receive $22,358.90 under the settlement, including $14,000 for his role as lead plaintiff in the case. Chaplin "devoted substantial time to the case and took a risk in serving as the driving force behind this litigation," according to the agreement.

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The other stevedores will receive payments ranging from $3,251.64 to $34,396.94 depending on the amount of unpaid overtime hours worked during the two-year statute of limitations covered by the lawsuit.

Marybeth Mullaney, a Mount Pleasant lawyer representing the stevedores, will receive $200,000 in fees and costs.

SSA Cooper is one of three companies hired by shipping lines to provide stevedores at the Port of Charleston. The stevedores supervise "gangs" of ILA Local 1422 workers who load and unload ships, secure cargo containers and drive vehicles at the port's terminals.

The port's other stevedore companies — Ports America and Ceres Marine Terminals — were not a part of the lawsuit.

Mullaney recently filed a second lawsuit against SSA Cooper on behalf of other stevedores with similar claims. Those stevedores are seeking unpaid overtime wages, unspecified damages and attorney's fees. That lawsuit is pending.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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