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March 9, 2015
The lawyers at Parks Chesin & Walbert are set to argue a significant employee rights case before the Georgia Court of Appeals on March 19. The case is Maranda Andrews v. Fulton County, Case Number A15A0712. The issue is whether the County must pay its employees in accordance with its Civil Service System.
The plaintiffs, all of whom are public defenders working for the County, claim that they are entitled to significant back pay and increased salaries because although they are classified the same as “county attorneys” with the County, they are paid at least $20,000 per year less. The claim is based on the language of the County’s Civil Service system, including County Personnel Regulation 200-1 requiring that the County apply “the same schedule of pay . . . equitably . . . to all positions in the same class” based on the “similarity of duties performed and responsibilities assumed.” Because all attorneys in the County are classified the same, they must all be paid on the same schedule.
Fulton County opposes the case, claiming that its Board of Commissioners retain the inherent power to pay its employees however it pleases, regardless of the language of the Civil Service Act. The Fulton County Superior Court strongly disagreed. Granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the trial court determined that the County violated the Civil Service Act and its own regulations by compensating attorneys in the Office of the County Attorney well above the approved salary ranges for their classifications under the Pay Plan. As a result, other attorneys may bring claims to obtain equitable compensation.
The ruling will have a significant impact on how the County does business. For many years, Fulton County has operated outside of the bounds of its Civil Service system, applying the rules in an ad hoc fashion to suit the whims of Commissioners and department heads. The Court of Appeals is not expected to render its decision for several months after oral argument.