Morrow officers suing city

By Ed Brock

Three high-ranking Morrow police officers are suing the city for wrongful termination, saying they are being retaliated against for complaining about department policies regarding overtime and use of department vehicles.

Lts. John Bennett and Sharon Jones, two of the plaintives in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, are on administrative leave pending termination while the third plaintiff, Andrew McNab, was a sergeant with the department before being fired, said their attorney Kevin D. Fitzpatrick.

"They're pretty much the middle level command in that department," Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said Jones attended a course in April at the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College. In that class she learned about changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act regarding overtime exemptions for officers of her and Bennett's rank.

Under the previous regulations they were considered exempt from being paid overtime. However, on Aug. 23 of last year the Fair Pay Amendment took effect that states that any officer, regardless of rank, who performs duties such as criminal investigations and apprehending suspects is eligible for overtime. Upon learning that, according to the lawsuit, Bennett and Jones requested a change in classification and back-pay from the time the amendment took effect.

City Manager John Lampl and the city government agreed to reclassify them as non-exempt but refused to give them backpay. Bennett and Jones filed grievances with the city according to the existing personnel rules and regulations.

Fitzpatrick said the city responded by placing both of them on leave, saying they were being mutinous and disloyal. They also gave a convoluted response regarding their decision to deny the grievance and changed the policy so that all grievances had to be approved by Lampl, according to the lawsuit.

In McNab's case, Fitzpatrick said the sergeant became concerned after the city changed its policy on plain-clothes officers taking city-owned cars home, prohibiting that practice if the employee lived more than five miles from the city. In April McNab went onto a Web site www.FLSA.com to question the legality of the change.

When Lampl discovered that McNab had gone to the Web site he accused him of being mutinous and put him on leave pending termination and then did terminate McNab's employment.

"What we have is a city manager who definitely needs to be addressed," Fitzpatrick said.

Lampl said he could not make a comment because the case dealt with a personnel issue. Morrow Police Chief Charlie Sewell also declined to make a comment for the same reason.

The city has 20 days to file its answers to the lawsuit.