Court rules in favor of Austin officers in age discrimination case

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Third Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of 29 Austin police officers who say they were discriminated against due to their age.

In 2011, the group of  officers was awarded $1.5 million in damages after proving the officers lost pay based on their age. The city appealed the decision.

On Friday, the Third Court of Appeals upheld the decision and said their ruling stands.

The opinion says the group of public safety officers over the age of 40 were stripped of their years of service. The officers were part of the former Public Safety Emergency Management Department and moved to APD patrol.

“I lost my seniority, years of service, rank, stipend pay and overtime,” one officer told the court. “Younger officers with very few years of service received pay increases. The only reason ever given was the financial impact on the city. I believe I was discriminated against based on my age.”

The opinion also states the average PSEM employee under 40 received a 15.61 percent increase after the consolidation of that unit, but the average employee over 40 received only a 5.68 percent increase.

“Considering all of the evidence, the city has not established a matter of law that its employment decisions were based on reasonable factor other than age,” the opinion read.

Ray Chandler, one of the 29 officers who sued and won, had 17 years experience when the consolidation began in 2009. At the time, he was told he would lose eight years, and only be given credit for nine years, meaning it would take that much longer to reach retirement.

“We had a couple of officers with 17 years experience be moved over a one year officer,” he told KXAN.

Now five years after they filed the lawsuit, the officers won their final appeal.

Chandler says he hopes this doesn’t happen to any other employees.

“It tells me that the city is more concerned not about taking care of it’s employees, but more about saving money than it is about doing what’s right,” he said. “We as employees didn’t want to sue the city, that was not our goal. Had the city done what’s right, we wouldn’t be here today.

“I feel like it’s the way the city treats it’s employees, not just APD. They say one thing and do something completely different. And the city has gotten so big they think they don’t have to do what’s right by law.”

“One of the interesting things about this opinion relates to the primary defense to a disparate impact age discrimination claim,” said Mark Crampton, who represented the officers in the case. “The employer is not liable if its actions were based on a ‘reasonable factor other than age.’ The city articulated an “rfoa”, but they didn’t have any evidence to back it up and we were able to show the jury the real reason they discriminated against our clients ( a reason which was denied by the City). So, the case shows that merely articulating an excuse isn’t enough, the employer has to prove it. We are pleased that the Austin Court of Appeals agreed with the jury and the trial court, finding that the evidence showed that these officers were the  victims of age discrimination due to the manner in which the City choose to consolidate Public Safety Emergency Management into the Austin Police Department. When you look at agencies like the FBI – they don’t seem to think it’s necessary to do a Saturday night massacre and get rid of all the older guys.”

Crampton is also representing another group of 14 APD officers from the organized crime division who say they were transferred because of age and race. They allege the OCD is now younger and whiter. That lawsuit is expected to be officially filed in a few months.

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