The Tennessee Court of Appeals has directed Sheriff Jim Hammond to equalize pay among sergeants in the department.
In doing so, the appeals court modified a ruling by Chancellor Frank Brown, who said the Sheriff's Civil Service Board did not have the authority to set pay.
Sheriff Hammond had filed suit after the Civil Service Board ruled in favor of sergeants, who filed a grievance on the pay issue. He said the pay gap was between around $43,000 to around $49,000 and moving all sergeants to the higher rate would cost some $73,000.
He said there also could be a boomerang effect costing the department as much as $1 million.
Chancellor Brown said, "Obviously, the sheriff has taken some actions to assist some sergeants. He raised the pay rate of some sergeants to the average pay of all sergeants. Perhaps, he can do more in the future. Perhaps this issue should be addressed to the County Commission, which is the legislative body. The County Commission not only obtains revenues through taxes but then allocates revenues to the HCSD and others through the budgetary process. The one point made by this court is that the board does not have the legal power to make equal the pay for each and every sergeant employed by the HCSD."
The appeals court directed Chancellor Brown to remand the matter to the Civil Service Board so it can notify the sheriff in writing to correct the pay disparity.
"It is for the sheriff to determine how this goal is to be achieved," the appeals court said.
Sgt. Mark Kimsey said, "The HCSO Civil Service Board was courageously created, decades ago, by Sheriff H.Q. Evatt to protect HCSO employees from political shenanigans in regard to hiring, discipline, pay, promotions and demotions and to ensure fair treatment of all HCSO employees.
"I speak only for myself, but I am extremely pleased with this decision and I thank the members of the Tennessee Court of Appeals for their diligence and study of this important issue. I also thank the members of the HCSO Civil Service Board for doing the right thing. There has been a move to reduce these protections from other governmental employees by Governor Haslam. This case had been followed by all law enforcement officers and law enforcement officer groups in Tennessee.
"Law enforcement officers simply desire fairness in pay, fairness in discipline and fairness in all aspects of their employment. The same fairness they strive to offer, at risk to their own well-being, to the citizens they serve. I don't think it is too much to ask for the Sheriff to treat all his employees fairly and under the rules of his own Civil Service Board.
"We all agreed to the rules and we were simply asking that the rules be followed. The Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed.
"From the opinion: "It is for the sheriff to determine how this goal is to be achieved, but – the grievance in this case having been sustained – the goal must be achieved
"It is not incumbent on any rank-and-file employee of the HCSO, or the HCSO Civil Service Board, to determine where the funding for fair treatment comes from. We trust the elected officials above us to do so. That is on them. That is what we elected them to do.
"From the opinion: 'The sheriff seems to want the best of all worlds by conceding the authority of the Board to deny the grievance but not the authority to grant the grievance and to order relief.'
"The best of both worlds is to treat your employees fairly, and under the rule of established law. To demand that employees follow the rules of the HCSO Civil Service Board, but excuse one's self from doing the same, would be the height of arrogance.
"The rank-and-file achieve our goals every day, despite the insultingly low, obviously disparate pay and constant cuts to our benefits, personnel shortages, and equipment and training shortages. We are doing our part and I think it is not too much to ask for the Sheriff to do his part.
"I am confident that Sheriff Hammond will do the right thing, as outlined and directed by his own Civil Service Board, and now, the Tennessee Court of Appeals."
The Chancery Court suit was also lodged against Sgts. Kimsey, Chris Harvey, Ricky Jones, Mark King, Mark Williams and Jody Mays - sergeants who sought the equalization.
The suit, filed by attorney Dee Hobbs, says on Nov. 6, 2009 that Sgt. Eric Merkle tendered a Freedom of Information Act request to Don Gorman, director of administration, asking for the list of pay for those with the sergeant title.
It said six days later, Sgts. Merkle and Harvey met with Sheriff Hammond and Mr. Gorman "at which time Sheriff Hammond proposed a solution relative to an equalization of pay for the sheriff's sergeants classification."
The sergeants met Nov. 16 and agreed on an alternative proposal, it was stated.
On Dec. 2, 2009, Sgts. Merkle and Harvey met with Sheriff Hammond and he rejected their proposal, the suit says.
It said the sheriff met with all sergeants on Dec. 14, 2009, regarding his proposal to equalize pay. He also met on May 21, 2010, with Hal North, attorney for the sergeants, on the issue. A grievance was filed Sept. 20, 2010.
The board ruled Jan. 27, 2010, that there was a disparity in sergeants' pay and sustained the grievance. The three-member panel unanimously sided with the six sergeants who had filed the grievance.