Louisville Loses Lawsuit, Owes Millions To Firefighters

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A judge has ruled that the Louisville Metro Government owes firefighters millions of dollars in overtime because officials calculated the pay incorrectly for years.

A spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson said the city will appeal the ruling by Jefferson Circuit Judge Lisabeth Hughes Abramson, who is not related to the mayor.

The firefighters sued the old city government for failing to calculate their overtime based on their total salaries, rather than their base pay. Judge Abramson's ruling applies to overtime from 1995 to 2001.

Ann Oldfather, a lawyer representing retired firefighters, said she now will ask the judge to apply federal contract laws that would allow her clients to seek overtime back pay dating to 1985. If the court agrees, Oldfather estimated the metro government would owe $10 million to $35 million to some 700 current and former firefighters.

``The city has owed what they owe for a long time, and it's time for them to pay up,'' said Oldfather.

Jay Blanton, a spokesman for Mayor Abramson, said he doesn't know where the metro government would get the money to pay the judgment. But he said he doubts that Oldfather will have much success trying to extend back pay to 1985 because ``there's been a pretty broad consensus'' about the years for which the metro government is liable.

The ruling won't apply to overtime earned after July 1, 2001, because the city of Louisville and firefighters negotiated overtime pay under a new contract, said Carl Mauldin, president of the Louisville Professional Fire Fighters Union Local 345, the current firefighters involved in the suit.

At issue is how the old city government paid overtime to firefighters, who, in addition to their base pay, received four salary supplements and a clothing stipend. Traditionally, firefighters have worked 24-hour shifts two or three days a week, averaging 16 hours of scheduled overtime each week.

Since 1974, the city paid the firefighters 1 1/2 times their base salary, excluding any money earned from the four salary supplements, for their scheduled overtime. For unscheduled overtime, the city included state incentive and longevity pay.

In 2000, Michael Kurtsinger filed a wage-and-hour complaint with the state Labor Cabinet after he learned of the possible overtime problem at a seminar in Atlanta. In 2001 he filed suit in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Retired firefighters also sued after Kurtsinger raised the issue. Kurtsinger claimed that the city erred in computing overtime because it calculated that pay _ 1 1/2 times the normal pay _ using only base pay. Retirees also wanted to be paid time-and-a-half on the clothing allowance firefighters receive.

``It's a great victory for us,'' said Herb Segal, the attorney who represents the union. ``We got pretty much what we thought we should.''