Non-Union City Entitled To Freeze Firefighter And Police Wages In Spite Of Pre-Hire Promises

The City of Longmont, Colorado does not collectively bargain with either its police officers or firefighters. The City pays its officers and firefighters on the basis of four pay steps. In its recruitment of officers and firefighters, the City stresses that potential employees will be able to reach the highest pay level more quickly than officers in other cities.

In 2002, the City was facing a decline in revenues. In light of that, the City froze the wages of all employees, including all step increases. Twenty-eight officers who were due to receive step increases in 2003, but who did not receive them because of the wage freeze, filed suit against the City. The officers alleged a breach of contract and the deprivation of a property right without due process.

The federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the officers’ lawsuit. As to the breach of contract claim, the Court ruled that “under Colorado law, a municipality’s authority to enter into contractual obligations is circumscribed by statute and ordinance. These restrictions are incorporated into any contract a municipality makes. And anyone that contracts with a municipality is charged with constructive knowledge of those restrictions.”

The Court continued with the observation that “Colorado courts specifically determine that municipalities retain the ability to change the compensation and benefits they provide to their employees. Thus, the officers did not have any legally cognizable expectation of receiving annual step increases for approximately the first three years of their employment.”

As to the promises made by recruiters, the Court concluded that “pursuant to the City’s charter, only the Council could create monetary obligations. Therefore, City employees could not otherwise bind the City contractually to an agreement that the Council did not validly create.”

Using the same reasoning, the Court found that the officers had no property interest in receiving their 2003 step increases. The Court held that, given Colorado law, the officers had no reasonable expectation that they would receive their step increases.

Schulz v. City of Longmont, Colorado, 2006 WL 2732098 (10th Cir. 2006).

This article appears in the November 2006 issue