New Lawsuit Filed Over Chattanooga Police Pay Disparity

CHATTANOOGA, TN – In August, a Hamilton County jury awarded more than $560,000 to 25 police officers because the city failed to give those officers promised raises and failed to maintain fair conditions of employment. Now, attorneys in the case have filed a class-action lawsuit that raises the same issues for a new set of plaintiffs.

Attorneys at Davis & Hoss believe at least 50 additional police personnel were affected by the city’s missteps, and they believe those ranking officers are due the same back pay as the 25 officers who brought the original suit in 2012.

The new class-action suit was filed Tuesday. The city of Chattanooga, Mayor Andy Berke and police Chief Fred Fletcher are named as defendants.

“We had 25 on our original lawsuit and there were countless other people that the 2010 pay plan went out to and affected,” said attorney Janie Parks Varnell. “We’ve identified upwards of 50; there are more, most likely.”

Both cases stem from a years-long dispute about the police department’s pay policies, which for about seven years allowed recently hired police officers to earn higher salaries than their supervisors.

At the center of the original case was a one-page document that was sent out to police personnel in 2010. The document laid out changes to police salaries. While the city contended that the document was only a one-time pay adjustment, the officers said the document promised to give police future raises as they gained experience.

The jury in the original lawsuit agreed with police in an Aug. 25 verdict and awarded the 25 officers back pay for the time they worked without receiving the promised raises. Those original officers were each awarded between $11,000 and $58,000 in back pay.

The new case raises all the same issues as the original case, except one. In the original lawsuit, officers alleged that the city practiced age discrimination when it implemented a particular training program. However, the jury ruled against the officers on that claim.

The age discrimination claims have been dropped from the new class-action suit.

Parks Varnell said the class-action suit allows the attorneys to more easily include a large number of plaintiffs in the case. She expects the lawsuit to move more quickly because much of the research and discovery has already been done as both sides prepared for trial in the original lawsuit.

“This [lawsuit] is in hopes that the city will recognize this affected many other people besides our original plaintiffs,” she said.

The city now has 30 days to file an answer to the lawsuit. Chattanooga city attorney Wade Hinton could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

From The Times Free Press