A judge has ruled that four plaintiffs can proceed with a class action suit on behalf of more than 300 current and former Salt Lake County Metro and Oxbow Jail employees who claim they were underpaid.

The suit stems from claims that employees were required to show up 10 minutes early for morning briefings. Those who were late or failed to attend the briefings were disciplined, according to the plaintiff's attorney, Brian M. Barnard.Barnard estimates that the briefing time amounted to roughly 40 hours a year in unpaid work for each of the 300 to 350 staff members.

In June 1996, the county settled a federal lawsuit by paying $364,000 to employees for the time spent in briefings between Feb. 1, 1994, and Feb. 1, 1996, citing a federal statute of limitations of two years.

Barnard refiled the suit in 3rd District Court last July to take advantage of the state's six-year statute of limitations. He is seeking an additional 31 months backpay, from July 1, 1991, to Feb 1, 1994. Barnard estimates those unpaid wages would total $425,000.

At a hearing last Friday, 3rd District Judge David Young ruled that the four named plaintiffs can pursue the class action suit on behalf of the current and former jail staffers. He also denied a request by the county to have the suit dismissed.

Barnard said he is preparing for a trial, but hopes the case can be resolved before trial.