City Officials Still Mulling Options In Wright Case

City officials are still considering their options when it comes to paying damages in the case involving a former officer of the Jamestown Police Department.

Last month, the state Supreme Court awarded Timothy Wright $172,681 in damages stemming from a 2007 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 claim against the Jamestown Police Department.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act is a federal law that protects military service members and veterans from employment discrimination on the basis of their service and allows them to regain their civilian jobs following a period of uniformed service.

The state Supreme Court ordered the police department and the city of Jamestown to pay Wright $44,656.22, plus an additional $44,656.22 as liquidated damages, and further ordered the city to pay Wright $83,368.42 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

According to his attorney, Wright, an Army Reserve officer, initially filed his claim against the Jamestown Police Department in 2007 after he was denied vacation time and a promotion within the department. Wright, who is now the police chief in the town of Carroll, had come off a 2004 deployment in Iraq when he first filed the claim and then he served two six-month deployments to Afghanistan, beginning in 2009.

In 2014, a Supreme Court jury in Chautauqua County decided against Wright’s claims regarding the promotion, but also ruled the vacation time was unfairly calculated. The city and police department moved to appeal the decision, but then dropped the action.

According to Marilyn Fiore-Lehman, city corporation counsel, Wright filed a total of five claims against the city and the Jamestown Police Department, but was only successful in getting a jury to find in his favor on one. She said the jury found that vacation entitlement was a seniority right and that the Jamestown Police Department violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act when it prorated Wright’s vacation entitlement. She added the city was successful in getting Wright’s retaliation claim dismissed at the Appellate Court.

“The jury did not find that the (Jamestown Police Department) discriminated against Mr. Wright when he did not receive a promotion to sergeant and the jury did not find that the accumulation of Annual Compensatory Time was a seniority right,” she said.

Fiore-Lehman said the damages awarded included a 9 percent interest rate all the way back to 2003, the first time Wright’s vacation was prorated, rather than 2007 when he filed his complaint.

Fiore-Lehma said Wright was aware from 2003-06 that the police department was prorating his vacation based on the time he worked in the prior year. She said he did not file a complaint with the city or a grievance with the department from 2003-05. A grievance filed by Wright in 2006 was denied and was not pursued by him or his union.

Wright did not file a complaint until 2007, Fiore-Lehman said, noting his attorney did not file any documents with the Court until 2010.

“All of that time, from 2003-2010, is completely attributable to Mr. Wright. However, the court still awarded 9 percent interest going back to 2003.”

Fiore-Lehman said the court did not consider arguments made on behalf of the city requesting a more realistic interest rate. She said the 9 percent interest rate was established in 1981.

“Prior to 1981, interest rates were so high certain defendants were exploiting the system by investing and accruing interest on funds, which should have been used to pay judgment creditors,” she said. “These defendants were purposely delaying cases and avoiding reasonable settlements to realize increased returns on their investments. In 1981, the statutory interest rate was almost one-half cent of the then current U.S. Treasury Bond Interest Rate. Interest rates have been on a steady decline since 1981. … The court failed to consider any of the above arguments regarding applying a lower interest rate to the calculation of damages.”

Fiore-Lehman said the city does not and never had a policy regarding reservist and their vacation time. She said in the case involving Wright, the Jamestown Police Department, in accordance with long-standing practice, procedure and the language contained in the collective bargaining agreement, calculated an employee’s annual vacation entitlement based on the months worked in the previous year. She added that this was the accepted practice by both management and union for more than 20 years.

“In accordance with the practice, Mr. Wright’s annual vacation entitlement was based on the months he worked in the prior year,” she said. “As a result, in those years Mr. Wright was deployed for extended periods of time his annual vacation entitlement was prorated to reflect the amount of months he worked in the previous year. For example, if Mr. Wright had a seven month deployment in year 2003, in 2004 his annual vacation entitlement would have been based on the five months he worked at (Jamestown Police Department) in 2003.

Fiore-Lehman said the city does not currently have any reservist working in the Jamestown Police Department.