On November 18, 2015, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners agreed to pay over $18 million to settle a suit filed by Parks, Chesin & Walbert attorneys on behalf of over 300 County employees. The settlement is the latest in a series of claims alleging the County’s pay plan violates its personnel regulations. The County was forced to pay $4.6 million in 2014 for similar claims brought by judicial law clerks after losing a binding arbitration.
The settlement follows a series of adverse rulings against the County in the trial court and before the Georgia Court of Appeals earlier this year in one of the seven cases brought by current and former public defenders (Andrews v. Fulton County, case number 2012-CV-223498). On June 11 the Court of Appeals sealed the County’s fate when it affirmed Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe’s ruling granting summary judgment to the employees. Before the settlement, the only remaining action was a trial on damages, which was scheduled for December 14 of this year. Read the appellate court decision here.
The pay dispute began in 1997 when the County began awarding lawyers working in the County Attorney’s Office, a whopping 36% raise under its “premium pay” regulations. Importantly, the County did not award similar pay hikes to the hundreds of other county lawyers who were in the identical job classifications in the Civil Service System. This included lawyers working as Judicial Law Clerks, Public Defenders, Child Advocates, Assistant District Attorneys, and State Court Solicitors. These employees were paid significantly less than identically classified peers in the County Attorney’s Office even though they performed the same jobs. The same misuse of premium pay awards occurred in the IT Department and the Sheriff’s Department, where selected employees were awarded extra pay while others were not.
The Plaintiffs were represented by Parks, Chesin & Walbert, well-known for challenging government actions on behalf of public employees. The litigation team included partners A. Lee Parks, David Walbert, Andrew Coffman, Travis Foust, associate Melissa Carpenter, and of counsel, Larry Chesin.