Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Denial of Retro Pay to District Chiefs

The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal has upheld a decision by the New Orleans Civil Service Commission that denied retroactive compensation to four recently promoted New Orleans district chiefs. Captains Paul Hellmers, Edward Poole, Jay Fielding and Michael Salvaggio were promoted to district chief in 2019, with the promotions being retroactive to 2016. The delay in promotions resulted from civil service proceedings that challenged the promotional process.

The NOFD concluded the chiefs were not entitled to backpay because they actually received more as captains than they would have received had they been promoted in 2016, owing to the fact as captains they earned overtime. The New Orleans Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 632, and the new district chiefs petitioned the civil service commission, arguing that the captains were entitled to compensation for all the hours they worked during the retro-period at the district chiefs hourly rate, less their captain’s hourly rate.

The commission sided with the department concluding that the retroactive promotions resulted in no financial loss, therefore there was no entitlement to back pay. Local 632 and the firefighters appealed the commission’s ruling to the Court of Appeal.

In upholding the commission, the Court of Appeals held:

  • Civil service cases are reviewed under a manifest error standard of review.
  • The Commission’s April 20, 2021 decision reveals that it considered the Firefighters assertion “that every hour of overtime worked should be paid at a [d]istrict [c]hief level even though, as District Chiefs, they would not have been eligible for any overtime payment, regardless of the hours they worked as exempt employees.”
  • The Commission ultimately determined that “to recalculate District Chief pay as suggested by the [Firefighters] would be inconsistent with the uniform pay plan and give rise to potential claims by other members of the [d]istrict [c]hief classification who did not receive additional compensation for exempt hours of work.”
  • The Commission found that the personnel director’s decision required that the Firefighters be made whole and their earnings during the retroactive promotional period accomplished that goal.
  • Based on the record before this Court, it cannot be said that the Commission’s findings were manifestly erroneous.
  • Even if the Firefighters would have been paid at the highest possible base salary for fire district chiefs during the retroactive promotional period, they would not have earned as much as they actually earned as captains since they would not have been entitled to overtime compensation.
  • To pay the Firefighters an additional salary as fire district chiefs for the retroactive promotional period would result in compensation as both nonexempt captains and exempt fire district chiefs for the same time period.
  • Thus, we find no error in the Commission’s determination that the compensation earned by the Firefighters, during the retroactive promotional period, made them whole and therefore, resulted in no financial loss.

Here is a copy of the decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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