AUSTIN -- After five years of court battles, 29 Austin police officers could soon get money due to them from the city.
The State of Texas Third District Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, upholding a 2011 ruling that the City of Austin discriminated against them because of their age.
Ray Chandler, now retired, is one of those officers. He worked as a Municipal Court Marshal for the City of Austin for 18 years, until 2009 when a growing Austin consolidated its 92 park, airport and municipal court police, together known as the Public Safety Emergency Management Department (PSEM), into the Austin Police Department (APD).
"We were glad to be consolidated into the Austin Police Department because of civil service protection, and we understood we would lose our rank," Chandler said.
What Chandler, who at the time was a sergeant with his unit, didn't know was that officers would also lose their years of service.
"They took away our years because they didn't want to pay us our years of service, because we were underpaid at such a rate disparity from APD that it was a large amount of money," Chandler said.
Chandler's 18 years with the city were reduced to nine when was assigned as an APD patrol officer. This was also the case for most officers 40 years old and older.
In 2011, half of the PSEM officers who were 40 or older sued the city, stating not carrying over their years of service created a problem for retirement. Austin police officers can retire after 16 years. While the existing retirement plan for the PSEM officers was carried over in the consolidation, the officers were unable to make the same amount of money in retirement as an APD officer unless they worked double the amount of years or in some cases, started from scratch.
Officers also said it was unfair that those who were with their departments for several years received only a 5 percent raise, while new PSEM officers received a pay increase of about 15 percent when they became APD officers.
The jury ruled in their favor.
"When they were not given a choice about taking the new jobs at APD but then not given credit for their years of service either, it was never really, there was never any doubt in our minds that they had been discriminated against on the basis of their age," said Walt Taylor of the Taylor Law Firm, who co-counseled representation for the officers.
The city appealed the ruling, partly claiming there was insufficient evidence that the officer's years of service were not carried over because of their age. On Feb. 7, 2014, three appellate judges upheld the ruling, ordering the city to pay $1.1 million in back pay to the officers, give the officers raises and pay another $400,000 in attorney's fees.
For that ruling, Chandler is grateful.
"We give our best for the city. To protect the citizens and to protect those who need protecting. But who protects us when we need protecting? Especially when our own employer comes and says we're not going to treat you fairly," Chandler said.
No one with the city would talk with KVUE News about the case. The city can file an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court to challenge the ruling. The City of Austin Law Department released the following statement:
We are aware of the appellate court’s ruling in this case, and the City is reviewing its options moving forward. At this time no decision has been made.