Fulton County settles $450,000 pay dispute

Fulton County commissioners agreed Wednesday to pay $450,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by several network specialists in the county’s IT department who said they were not paid the overtime they were entitled.

The agreement, which still must be approved by a federal judge, is the latest in a string of lawsuits about pay that were brought in the county. Previous suits, though, were related to intentional pay disparities among employees who had identical job descriptions.

In this case, eight IT employees were classified as exempt workers, although they should have been non-exempt. Therefore, they were not paid for working overtime hours they should have been entitled to, said attorney M. Travis Foust, who represented the workers.

Foust said the issue was discovered in a 2010 audit of the department, but it wasn’t corrected until last spring. After the change was made, he said, Fulton didn’t pay the workers the money they should have received after the error was discovered. Foust said the employees deserved pay for working on-call shifts and for finishing projects off the clock.

“I don’t know why they had the audit five years and didn’t do anything about it,” he said. “They should have done the right thing back in May and paid these people what they were owed.”

The workers got twice as much as they would have been owed if they had been paid correctly, Foust said.

The county has had several large settlements related to improper payment in recent years. In November, Fulton settled eight lawsuits brought by hundreds of county employees for $18 million. Those suits dragged on for 12 years before a settlement.

The county also paid $400,000 to IT workers in 2003 following arbitration about pay and $4.6 million to judicial law clerks in 2014 after they filed suit about pay discrepancies.

With these suits, Fulton County has a habit of spending more than it needs to on pay issues, said Greg Fann, executive director of the employees’ union.

“They lost them money over and over again because they don’t want to listen,” he said. “You can pay now or pay later, but you’re going to pay.”

The network specialists’ settlement agreement includes $153,900 in attorney’s fees. The county did not comment on the suit, but the settlement agreement said the county did not admit to any wrongdoing.

The agreement came much more quickly than those in previous pay cases, Foust said, and the new county attorney — Patrise Perkins-Hooker — has been “proactive so far in getting cases resolved,” he said.

“They made the right decision to resolve it early,” he said.

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