published Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Tennessee Supreme Court backs Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond on sergeants' pay

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to Times Free Press editorial board members.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to Times Free Press editorial board members.
Photo by Patrick Smith.

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that the Hamilton County Sheriff Office's Civil Service Board exceeded its statutory authority in ordering Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond to equalize the pay of sergeants in the department.

"Numerous provisions of the Civil Service Manual support the conclusion that the sheriff may exercise discretion in setting the rate of pay for his employees," wrote Justice Sharon G. Lee for the Court.

The court relied on several statutes, including one that grants the Hamilton County Commission authority to set the sheriff's budget. Justices also noted the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Civil Service Manual expressly gives the sheriff the power to make individual pay determinations.

The case arose when six sergeants filed a grievance arguing pay disparities within an established pay range among their rank should be eliminated. The board ordered Hammond to equalize all sergeants' pay.

The sheriff appealed the board's decision to Hamilton County Chancery Court where Chancellor Frank Brown agreed with Hammond and declared the board's ruling null and void.

The state Court of Appeals said the board exceeded its authority but directed the pay be equalized. Then the case went before the Supreme Court, resulting in the decision.

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