Officers win age discrimination claims against City after department consolidation

City of Austin v. Raymond E. Chandler, et al., 03-12-00057-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, February 7, 2014)

This is an age discrimination case where several public safety officers over 40 sued the City of Austin when they lost rank and years of service due to a merger of the Public Safety Emergency Management Department (“PSEM”) and the Austin Police Department. A jury found for the officers and the City appealed the judgment.  The 3rd Court of Appeals affirmed.

Austin is a civil-service city with labor agreements with the APD union. APD has strict objective standards for determining an officer’s pay and rank, including “exam score, seniority points, education points and other requirements.”  Prior to the merger of departments, PSEM was a non-civil-service agency encompassing City’s airport, park, and municipal-court law-enforcement operations.  According to the City, PSEM officers had significantly lower pay, but were eligible for different pay stipends. The City and APD union negotiated a consolidation agreement but PSEM was not included at the time because it was not part of the employees union.  The consolidation agreement provided that no PSEM employee could transfer to APD at a rank higher than “officer,” start with a base salary higher than a 16 year APD officer, and only 3 years of service counts. To compensate for the loss of most of their pay stipends, the City gave all transferring PSEM employees a lump sum payment to ensure that they at least maintained their final PSEM salary for their first two years at APD.  Each plaintiff filed their letter complaints to the EEOC, but the City argued the letter complaints did not include disparate-impact discrimination, the sole cause of action in the live pleadings. The jury found the City’s decision not to include years of service was discriminatory and without justification.

The Austin Court of Appeals first held that regardless of the fact disparate-impact wording was not in the letter complaint, the plaintiffs exhausted their administrative remedies because the letters referenced a facially neutral policy which had an adverse effect on a specific category of employee. The court went into the prima facie elements of a disparate-impact case and why the evidence at trial was legally and factually sufficient to support the jury verdict.  If you have a potential disparate-impact claim or with to avoid one for your entity, this is a good case to read for the standards used. Just be prepared to read most of the 23 page opinion.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Chief Justice Jones, Justices Goodwin and Field.  Opinion by Justice Field. The attorney listed for the City is Ms. Lynn E. Carter.  The attorneys listed for the Plaintiff are Mr. Walter L. Taylor and Mr. Mark W. Crampton.

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