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June 16, 2014
In a unanimous decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed an arbitration award of $4,354,692.00 for 23 Fulton County Superior and State Court law clerks. An arbitrator previously found that Fulton County violated its personnel regulations by denying the clerks equal pay for equal work, a concept made a part of Fulton County’s personnel system.
The dispute stemmed from the County’s decision to pay the lawyers working in the County Attorney’s Office approximately 36% more than lawyers assigned to other departments within the County. This violated the County’s compensation and classification plan, which states that all employees who are classified the same, must be paid in accordance with the County’s compensation schedules. The arbitrator rejected the County’s position that it had “unfettered” discretion to set its employees’ pay. The arbitrator found that this assertion contradicted the plain language and meaning of the personnel regulations, which have the “force and effect of law.”
The Court of Appeals also ruled that the trial court should add additional back pay accruing from the date of the arbitration award, to the date of the final judgment. This amount added approximately $500,000.00 to the original award of back pay. In its ruling, the Appellate Judges also affirmed the trial court’s order requiring Fulton County to pay $94,557.50 in attorneys’ fees under O.C.G.A. § 9-1-5-14 (a) and (b) for advancing arguments that were “…not even remotely supported by the significant amount of precedent on this particular issue.”
We are gratified by the clarity and unequivocal language in this unanimous Court of Appeals decision. The concept of ‘equal pay for equal work’ means that local governments are not free to pay their merit employees arbitrarily, but must instead abide by the terms of the merit system. The decision fully vindicates our clients’ position that employees have a contractual right under the pay and classification plan.
— Lee Parks, Lead Counsel for the Fulton County Judicial Law Clerks.
A copy of the Court of Appeals decision can be found here. The lawyers at Parks, Chesin & Walbert fought long and hard to force Fulton County into compliance with its own laws. Let us bring this same tireless advocacy to your cause.