Supreme Court denies Franklin officers appeal

Published 10:35 am Friday, November 17, 2017

The Supreme Court of Virginia has refused to grant the appeal that 25 current and former officers with the Franklin Police Department had requested after their lawsuit against the city concerning overtime wages was dismissed in March. The Virginia Supreme Court justices reviewed the case and ruled on the matter on Oct. 24, bringing the two-year legal dispute to a close, permanently.

Supreme Court records indicate that the justices declined to allow the appeal after ruling that “upon review of the record in this case and consideration of the argument submitted in support of and in opposition to the granting of an appeal, the Court is of the opinion that there is no reversible error in the judgment complained of.”

The officers had initially filed the suit on Sept. 2, 2015, with representation by J. Daniel Vinson, an attorney with Randall | Page P.C. The suit had alleged that the city had breached its contract with the officers by requiring them to work 11 uncompensated hours each 28-day pay period before they could receive overtime pay.

Judge Charles E. Poston with the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Virginia dismissed the lawsuit on March 8 of this year on the grounds that the plaintiffs (the officers) were salaried employees, not hourly, and that the existence of hourly rate calculations in the city’s payroll documents, which were used to calculate overtime wages, were not proof of an hourly wage system. His ruling further stated that there was no common law right for employees to receive overtime pay, and that overtime pay is based on the grace of the employer or upon a statute.

The officers’ suit focused on a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act that permits municipalities to require firefighters and law enforcement officers to work 171 hours per 28-day pay period instead of 160 before becoming entitled to overtime pay, resulting in an 11-hour “gap.”

According to Poston’s ruling, Virginia law does not require the City of Franklin to pay the plaintiffs for their “gap” hours, but does not prohibit them from doing so either.

City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV said that with the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling, all of the officers’ options to ask for a rehearing or an appeal have expired. He also affirmed that the city had followed policy in paying its officers for 160 hours per 28-day period and time and a half for any hours worked over 171 for that period.

Over the past two years, the city has spent $110,470.87 on outside counsel to defend itself against this lawsuit, the burden of which Williams said will ultimately fall to taxpayers. The city carries liability insurance, but that policy does not extend to contract cases such as this, he explained.

Vinson was unable to be reached for comment by press time.