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Trial date set for firefighters’ longevity pay lawsuit

PARKERSBURG — A 2021 trial date has been set in a lawsuit filed by Parkersburg firefighters over a reduction in wages city officials say was simply the correction of an error.

Attorneys representing the city and firefighters Wayne White, Michael Wood and Joshua Gandee appeared before Wood County Circuit Court Judge Robert Waters in January 2019 for arguments regarding the city’s motion to dismiss the suit.

In April 2020, Waters issued a ruling denying that motion.

“It is premature to make other findings of fact and conclusions of law proposed by the parties in that there is a need for discovery to proceed and evidence to be taken before the Court can make proper findings of fact and conclusions of law … in this case,” the order says.

The plaintiffs say the city improperly reduced their wages by 2.8 cents an hour in 2017. The city claims this was to correct an error in the rate of their longevity pay.

Parkersburg adopted a longevity pay policy in 2008 that gave municipal employees a raise of $624 a year for each year they worked for the city. But the hourly rates varied because employees worked different shifts.

In 2011, longevity pay was frozen. While employees no longer accrued additional pay as their service continued, they kept the increases they’d received previously.

That same year, the Fire Department’s schedule changed so that more firefighters, including the plaintiffs, worked a 54-hour-a-week schedule. But their longevity pay had been accrued based on a 48-hour week, giving them an additional 25 cents an hour. The rate for 54-hour employees was 22.2 cents an hour, according to filings on behalf of the city, but they continued to be paid at the 25-cent rate.

The city’s attorneys argue the firefighters were paid in error from 2011 to 2017, when the longevity rate was reduced to 22.2 cents an hour. The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Walt Auvil, say the pay should not have been reduced because it was accrued at 25 cents an hour.

While only White, Wood and Gandee would be eligible for back pay if the suit is decided in their favor, Auvil previously said they were seeking reinstatement of the 25-cents-an-hour rate for all city firefighters.

In a scheduling conference in late May, Waters slated a trial date of April 13, 2021. A deadline of June 4 was set for potential mediation, but the parties agreed to extend that to Aug. 31 after the city retained a new attorney due to a conflict arising with its previous counsel.

The order amending the mediation deadline also mentions the possibility of including another case in the effort. White is one of the plaintiffs in that suit, filed earlier this year, alleging the city incorrectly calculates holiday pay for firefighters

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