published Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Lawsuit may delay raises for police, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says


by Cliff Hightower

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BY THE NUMBERS

• $289,000: Amount needed to give pay raises to all city employees, including part-time and temporary workers.

• $70,000: Total needed to give a pay raise to full-time employees who did not receive one

• 56: Number of full-time employees who did not receive pay raises this year

Source: Chattanooga

Fifty-six full-time civilian Chattanooga employees must wait a week to learn whether they get pay raises this year, but about 130 police officers must wait even longer.

An age discrimination lawsuit filed by 29 police officers could jeopardize $1.2 million in pay increases already promised in this year's budget, Mayor Ron Littlefield told City Council members Tuesday.

Councilman Andraé McGary immediately asked Littlefield how the city would address the police department's career ladder pay program.

The mayor said he couldn't discuss details on why the city would delay implementation of the career ladder program.

"I can't say much about the lawsuit because it is a lawsuit," he said.

When McGary pressed again, the mayor had the same response.

Twenty-nine police officers have sued the city. The officers are captains, lieutenants and sergeants who say the city has implemented a pay program that allows their subordinates to make more money than they do. The Chancery Court suit seeks back pay, lost benefits, damages allowed under certain state provisions, court costs, attorneys fees and a solution to the pay disparity.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd sent out a memo to police officers last Friday, stating the career ladder program -- officially known as the Career Development Program -- could be affected by the lawsuit. His memo also stated that pay increases earned through the career ladder could be delayed indefinitely.

"Substantial changes to the Career Development Program are expected," he said.

Littlefield said he and city lawyers must decide whether the career ladder pay can be distributed anytime soon.

"If I can get a green light, then we can move on," he said.

But Bryan Hoss, lawyer for the plaintiffs in the age discrimination suit, said there is no reason for the city administration to hold police officers' pay as hostage.

"I think it's retaliation," he said. "We're not asking for that plan to be set aside. We're asking for another plan to be implemented."

Hoss said the city has known for "months and months" that the lawsuit was coming.

Council members also spent more time talking about giving pay raises to civilian employees who did not receive them in this year's budget. The council found out last week that a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise did not include all employees.

Littlefield told the council that 56 full-time employees had not received raises because they had capped out at their maximum rate. A total of 299 other employees did not get raises because of their part-time or temporary status, officials said.

For the full-time employees to get raises, the city budget would need an influx of $70,000, Littlefield said. All employees, including part-time and temporary, would need an additional $289,000, he said.

The council decided it would mull over different pay proposals and might vote on them next week.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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