Court agrees law clerks due millions in Fulton discrimination suit

Twenty-three State and Superior court law clerks are collectively due at least $4.3 million, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The court affirmed an arbitration award stemming from the clerks’ complaint that Fulton County unlawfully discriminated against them. Their lawsuit alleged that the clerks were being paid about $20,000 less a year than people who worked under the county attorney as assistant county attorneys, even though their jobs were rated as comparable.

The court also sent the case back to Superior Court so the clerks could collect back pay from the date of the arbitration, amounting to about $500,000.

Lee Parks, lead counsel for the law clerks, said the ruling “fully vindicates our clients’ position and will, hopefully, bring an end to six long years of litigation.”

The claims addressed by the court go back to 2006 when 23 law clerks filed a grievance claiming they were unfairly paid less, despite performing similar work, than staff attorneys in the county attorney’s office. In arbitration, the law clerks were awarded money and back pay. A Superior Court confirmed the award, and the case went to the appeals court at the county’s request.

The county contended that the Superior Court erred on grounds that the award of back pay was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

In 1995, the county had hired a consulting firm to perform an in-depth job and pay classification study, and the Fulton County Commission adopted its recommendation in 1997. That put the assistant county attorneys and law clerks in the same pay grade and job classification.

The county also began “premium pay” to address instances where particular job classifications received less compensation than similar non-government positions. The study found that all people in the classification that included the assistant county attorneys and law clerks were compensated 36 percent less than their private-sector counterparts But the commission gave “premium pay” to the assistant county attorneys and not the law clerks.

In 2005, the county eliminated the “premium pay” but still continued paying the assistant county attorneys more than the law clerks, according to court records.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.