Judge's rulings inconclusive police pay dispute to go to trial

November 04, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A four-year fight over millions of dollars in overtime pay for Baltimore police sergeants and lieutenants moved closer to trial after a federal judge issued several rulings for and against the city and police union.

U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black Jr. ruled last week that sergeants and lieutenants are considered salaried employees, a ruling that favors the city, which does not want to pay them overtime for working more than 40 hours a week.

But Black also said it is unclear how much authority sergeants and lieutenants have on the job, leaving open the possibility they may not be considered managers and, therefore, are eligible for overtime.

There is "conflicting evidence regarding the percentage of time sergeants and lieutenants spend performing managerial duties," Black wrote. "Among the senior officials deposed, there was no consensus as to how sergeants and lieutenants spend the majority of their time."

The complicated case, which could have implications for other police departments, will now go to trial. Both sides are scheduled to meet with the judge Nov. 15 to decide a trial date.

The lawsuit filed in 1990 now involves 180 sergeants and lieutenants who are seeking retroactive overtime pay from 1989. Many of the officers involved in the suit worked 100 to 200 hours of overtime each year, the suit says.

The case has generated a thick court file of depositions from Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, former Commissioner Edward V. Woods, nine police majors and four police captains.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 was quick to claim victory after Black's ruling and to chastise the city for paying a Washington law firm more than $800,000 to handle the case.

Black rejected city claims that federal labor law -- which requires overtime pay for certain workers, but not managers -- is unconstitutional. Police union lawyer Michael Marshall said the judge "left for trial the core issue: Should sergeants and lieutenants be exempt or not exempt employees?" -- eligible for overtime or not.

Attorneys for the city, Acting City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson and John D. Maddox, declined to comment.

Pub Date: 11/04/96

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