From: Oakland Tribunes
City officials moved this week to settle a lawsuit filed by more than 500 police officers who claimed they went unpaid for a number of pre-shift and post-shift activities, including the time it took to dress for their job.
The tentative deal follows three years of legal wrangling and public sparring. The City Council gave its go-ahead to settle Tuesday in closed session after the two sides met with a mediator Nov. 12. For the city, the legal prospects looked dim.
“We would have lost,” said City Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland), head of the council’s public safety committee. “And it would have cost us more money. I think that’s why (we) voted for it “… to minimize the impact of what we would have ultimately had to pay out if we didn’t settle.”
The agreement requires the city to pay $1.75 million in attorney’s fees and costs within a two-year period. It requires the city to give roughly 130 hours of vacation to plaintiffs who are still on the force and to award cash payments of $3,500 to the 50 to 70 officers who were part of the suit who since have retired.
The settlement is subject to final approval by the council Jan. 5. It also must be accepted by 92 percent of the plaintiffs. The court also has to sign off on the agreement.
City Attorney John Russo and attorney Michael Rains battled publicly about the lawsuit on the op-ed pages of this newspaper last fall, with Russo saying it amounted to “little more than a shakedown.” Rains responded by saying Russo didn’t have his facts straight and the city was on the hook for “unequivocal and egregious violations of federal labor law.”
The lawsuit did contain allegations that officers were not rightfully paid for the time it took them to dress for work, but it was broader than many of the so-called “donning and doffing” cases many cities have faced. It also included allegations, for example, that the city had, for years, incorrectly calculated the overtime it paid police.
The suit ended with more amicable words from both sides. For his part, Russo acknowledged the city faced legal exposure and said the Oakland Police Officers Association’s new leadership made settling the lawsuit easier. The lawsuit was brought by individual officers, not the union, but the law firm that represents the union did handle the case.
Rocky Lucia, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the officers could have won a judgment in the “tens of millions of dollars” but instead offered to take vacation because of the city’s budget problems.
Not all were pleased. The council approved the settlement 6-2, with council members Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) and Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary) voting no.