Chattanooga Police sue over pay disparity

photo Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield

Names of officers in the lawsuit:• James Phillip Headden• Doug Stone• Robert Evans• Susan Blaine• Albert Tallant• Jeffrey Dewitt Rearden• Roger David Gibbens• James Franklin Lee Holloway• Kevin Duane Kincer• Rodney Craig Thompson• Tommy Gene Meeks• James Anthony Blanton• Rebecca Sue Shelton• William W. Phillips• Bryan Scot Churchwell• Jeffrey Tremayne Gaines• James Ross Hogwood, II• Evander Elliott Lloyd, Jr.• Jennifer Ann Duggan Davis• Wilma Jean Brooks• Todd Thomas Royval• Austin L. Garrett• Christopher Keith Phillips• Anthony Easter• Robert Jason Lewis• Craig W. Joel• Scott Allison Bales• Jonathan Connor Bryant• John Chambers

Twenty-nine Chattanooga police officers have filed a lawsuit against Chattanooga, its mayor and police chief alleging age discrimination, due process violations and breach of contract for failing to fix pay problems among the ranks of sergeant and above.

The main complaint centers on a promotion program that has allowed new police officers training and raises that, in many instances, paid lower-ranking police more than their supervisors.

Filed in Chancery Court this week, the lawsuit seeks back pay, lost benefits, damages allowed under certain state provisions, court costs, attorneys fees and a solution to the pay disparity.

Attorneys for the officers, Bryan Hoss and Stevie Phillips, said in a statement Wednesday that Mayor Ron Littlefield and the City Council have acknowledged a significant problem with the pay plan.

"They've only exacerbated it by ignoring the older, more senior officers," Hoss wrote. "It's a ludicrous situation when a subordinate makes more than their supervisor especially in any organization in which there is a military-style chain of command like the police department."

Littlefield's spokesman Richard Beeland deferred comments on the pending lawsuit to city attorneys who did not return messages Wednesday. The city has 30 days to respond to the court filing.

The lawsuit states that officers with the rank of sergeant and above were not provided with a training and raise program similar to what new officers could use.

In 2009, Fraternal Order of Police representative Danny Hill wrote the city that the promotion and pay system was creating pay disparities between subordinates and supervisors and if "left unattended this disparity will only grow worse."

Hoss wrote that his clients have tried to avoid a lawsuit but they've gotten little response.

"They simply want a pay plan that is fair and that reflects the chain of command, time in rank and service, and merit," Hoss wrote. "But the mayor's office is the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand."

Eighteen of the officers are over the age of 40 and claim age discrimination as part of their complaint to the court. Many, but not all, of the lower-ranking officers who received pay and promotions above their supervisors are younger than 40, the suit states.

In 2010 the City Council approved a pay remedy for sergeants and above, according to the lawsuit. The plan set base salaries for sergeants, lieutenants and captains and also outlined raises once the respective officers had held that rank for three years and another raise at five years.

Since the 2010 plan was authorized, those who've reached the required time in rank have not received the accompanying pay raise, according to the lawsuit.

In late 2010 the city paid $840,000 to former deputy chiefs T.E. "Skip" Vaughn and Charles Cooke, who sued the city after being fired in 2007 and replaced by younger, lower-paid officers.

Lee Davis, who practices law with Hoss and Phillips, represented the men in that lawsuit.