On Monday, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that twenty three law clerks belonging to the State and Superior court are collectively owed at least $4.3 million by the Fulton County which had unlawfully discriminated against them.
The law clerks had complained and won an arbitration award against the county. In their lawsuit, they had alleged that they were receiving at least $20, 000 less per year than assistant county attorneys – in spite of their jobs rated as comparable to that of court law clerks.
The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the arbitration award in favor of the law clerks and sent the case back to the Superior Court to determine on collectable back pay from the date of the arbitration. That alone is expected to be more than $500,000.
The lead counsel for the law clerks, Lee Parks, said the decision of the Court of Appeals “fully vindicates our clients’ position and will, hopefully, bring an end to six long years of litigation.”
The instant claims originated in 2006, when 23 law clerks filed their grievances holding that they were unfairly paid less than staff attorneys in the county attorney’s office, though they performed similar work. The matter went to arbitration and the law clerks won both damages and back pay. The Superior Court later confirmed and award, but the Fulton County appealed.
The county argued that the Superior Court had failed to appreciate that awarding back pay was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
In a pay classification study made by a consulting firm in 1995, and commissioned by the Fulton County Commission, assistant county attorneys and law clerks had been placed in the same pay grade and job classification. The County Commission accepted the recommendations in 1997.
After the study found that all people in the classification, including the law clerks and the assistant county attorneys received at least 36 percent less than their private sector counterparts, the Commission began the system of “premium pay” to compensate for the difference.
However, while the Fulton County began the “premium pay” for assistant county attorneys, the law clerks were neglected from such benefits, even though classified at the same pay level and job classification.
The County eliminated the “Premium pay” system in 2005, but continued paying higher packages to assistant county attorneys, while law clerks continued to be ignored.