After court ruling, what's Sheriff's price for 'equal pay'? - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

After court ruling, what's Sheriff's price for 'equal pay'?

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) 00 Great-grandmother Crystal Hastings has no doubt that two people who hold the same title, and the same job description with the same employer, should earn the same pay.

"They both earned the same rank," she says.

No argument from Morgan Wigger, who's worked since she was 15 years old.

"Why not," she asks. "They both were given the same opportunity."

But both ladies say the issue gets more complicated when you try to define 'equal pay for equal work.'

"There are circumstances when you've been there longer," Wigger says.

"They would have more experience," Hastings says.

"So yes," both says. "One maybe should get paid more."

Tennessee's Court of Appeals has ruled that Hamilton County Sheriff Hammond should be paying some of his sergeants a lot more.

"There is little rhyme or reason to the pay scale of the individuals holding the rank of sergeant in the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department," the court ruling reads. "These differences in pay are attributable to a wide variety of factors including the sheriff's discretion.''

The ruling directs the Hamilton County Civil Service Board to direct Hammond to equalize pay among his sergeants; in effect, modifying a Chancery Court ruling that determined the Board had no authority to do so.

"It is up to the Sheriff to determine how this goal is to be achieved," the Court ruling orders, adding "it must be achieved."

"This is not Jim Hammond saying I don't want you to have the money," the Sheriff tells Eyewitness News. "I think it's more a problem of the system that is being argued."

Hammond questions whether the ruling prevents him from continuing to award three percent 'merit raises.' Hamilton County's Civil Service rules permits such discretionary raises, he says.

Sergeant's pay ranges from $43,000 to $49,000 annually, according to the particulars of the lawsuit that six sergeants filed, citing pay discrepancies.

"If I moved everybody up to the top of that pay scale, six sergeants would cost us $30-$40,000," Hammond says. "If I have to give it to all nineteen sergeants in the department, it's closer to $90,000."

"But what if I have to open it up for every employee," he asks. "This opens Pandora's Box."

"He's open the box back on himself," says Chattanooga Police Sgt. Craig Joel, " a Vice President for Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 22.

FOP members allege that CPD's own pay scales contain discrepancies that cross lines of rank, race and gender.

"Chief (Bobby) Dodd has been trying to address these issues, but City Hall, in this case, is refusing to fix our problem," Sgt. Joel says.

"Were they to, with back pay, we're talking millions of dollars. A million, at least, I'm certain."

"Apples and oranges," City Attorney Michael McMahan says. "Our Civil Service rules aren't the same as those governing Hamilton County."

"He (Joel) doesn't understand Civil Service as far as law enforcement," Sheriff Hammond says. "It's a whole different ball game is what it is."

Hammond is awaiting direction from the Civil Service Board. It has sixty days to decide whether to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

At least one of those who sued,, Sgt. Mark Kimsey, is hopeful that the fight ends here.

In a response to the court ruling, he writes "the rank and file achieve their goals despite insultingly low obviously disparate pay and constant cuts to our benefits, personnel shortages, and equipment and training shortages."

"It is not too much to ask for the Sheriff to do his part. I am confident that the sheriff will do the right thing."

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