Con­way’s po­lice, fire em­ploy­ees win rul­ing

The law­suit sought to rep­re­sent all city em­ploy­ees but later nar­rowed the class to po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers be­cause of class-ac­tion re­quire­ments.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - EMILY WALKENHORST

Con­way po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers su­ing the city can do so with class-ac­tion sta­tus, the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court ruled Thurs­day.

Faulkner County Cir­cuit Judge Troy Braswell did not abuse his dis­cre­tion when he cer­ti­fied a class of more than 100 fire­fight­ers and more than 130 po­lice of­fi­cers in a law­suit against the city over a breach of con­tract, the court de­ter­mined.

“A court abuses its dis­cre­tion when it acts im­prov­i­dently, thought­lessly, or with­out due con­sid­er­a­tion. … We can­not say that the court abused its dis­cre­tion here, when it care­fully con­sid­ered the com­plaint and mat­ters in the record to find that com­mon ques­tions were present,” Jus­tice Rhonda Wood wrote in the court’s ma­jor­ity opin­ion.

Fur­ther, the em­ploy­ees all had a com­mon com­plaint re­gard­ing prom­ises made about their pay, the par­ties who sued had typ­i­cal com­plaints com­pared to the class as a whole, and a class-ac­tion law­suit would be the most ef­fi­cient way of re­solv­ing po­ten­tially more than 200 claims, the court ruled.

The city had ar­gued that a class-ac­tion case would be im­prac­ti­cal be­cause of dif­fer­ing in­di­vid­ual com­plaints.

Po­lice of­fi­cer Richard Shu­mate Jr. and fire­fighter Da­mon Reed sued the city in 2012, al­leg­ing that the city had breached a con­tract with its em­ploy­ees. The law­suit sought to rep­re­sent all city em­ploy­ees but later nar­rowed the class to po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers be­cause of class-ac­tion re­quire­ments.

Braswell cer­ti­fied the class in De­cem­ber 2015, al­though he dis­missed the law­suit’s claim that the city il­le­gally used money from a 2001 0.25 per­cent sales tax for pur­poses other than in­creas­ing em­ployee pay. Shu­mate and Reed had ar­gued the tax was to be used for em­ployee pay. The class rep­re­sents peo­ple who were em­ployed by the city be­tween Dec. 2, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2012.

The plain­tiffs are in­stead pur­su­ing a breach of con­tract claim against the city. They al­lege the city dis­trib­uted the same pay grid to each em­ployee, and each was told that it rep­re­sented his salary, but em­ploy­ees were not com­pen­sated ac­cord­ingly.

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