In her ruling, which comes after a contested trial that took place in Clinton County District Court on July 2, Judge Mary Howes has dismissed an appeal filed by Sgt. James Klaes. Her ruling states the Civil Service Commission did not err when it refused to promote Klaes to captain in December and that the Clinton City Council did not violate state code when it reduced the number of captains on the police force from five to three.
Klaes filed the civil lawsuit against the city and the city’s Civil Service Commission in January, claiming he was denied a promotion to captain — a salaried position — when the City Council twice decreased the number of police captains on the force as part of a reorganization.
Klaes has been with the department for nearly 28 years and began serving as a shift commander in January 2005. Court documents state Klaes’ realignment as shift commander was with the full understanding and knowledge that the assignment was the first of the four reassignments under Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy’s plan to reorganize the department to get to the point where sergeants would fulfill shift commander duties.
There had been five captains, but the retirement of Capt. Burton Simmons on Aug. 31, 2004, reduced that to four. When Klaes was reassigned to shift commander on Jan. 1, 2005, — which happened after he requested the assignment and it was determined he would be paid overtime if needed — the number of captains still stood at four. He oversaw B shift, with the four captains overseeing A, C and D shifts and investigations.
On March 14, 2006, Klaes through his attorney sent a letter to the city attorney and Chief Brian Guy requesting that he be paid out of rank for the position of captain. The city attorney denied Klaes’s request for out of rank pay on April 12, 2006.
The council around that time also passed a second resolution reducing the number of captain positions from four to three effective April 1, 2006. That downsizing coincided with the retirement of Capt. Lester Shields on March 17, 2006.
At that point, the reassignment plan was fully implemented: Three other sergeants were promoted into the shift commander roles and the three captains were reassigned.
In May 2006, Klaes notified the city attorney of his request to be permanently appointed to a captain post, basing his request upon the fact that he hasdbeen serving as a shift commander with captain’s duties since January 2005, and that he wanted to receive overtime pay commensurate with that position.
When the promotion did not happen, Klaes requested the commission hearing, saying he should have been promoted and in effect was demoted by not being paid a captain’s wage.
But the city claimed Klaes took the position fully aware of the reorganization and that it had been determined he would be compensated by overtime pay, which none of the captains receive since they are salaried employees.
In fact, Klaes turned out to be the highest paid member of the force in calendar year 2005. Klaes earned $82,112 in 2005; two of the four captains received compensation of $61,603, another made $61,366 and the fourth earned $64,531.
Based on an October 2006 hearing, the Civil Service Commission determined Klaes equated being assigned as a shift commander with being a captain, but the commission stated it is not aware of any authority for the proposition that shift commanders must be captains.
The commission also did not support Klaes’s claim he had been demoted by his reassignment as a shift commander and not being paid a captain’s wage; the commission cited rulings in which it has been determined that rearranging the classification of employees does not constitute a demotion and that there had been no change in his rank, no change of compensation, he remained a bargaining unit employee and received full holiday pay and overtime pay.
“The Clinton City Council reduced the number of positions of captains pursuant to city ordinance. The commission lacks the statutory authority to review or approve consolidation of civil service positions within the police department. When officer Klaes was reassigned as shift commander there was never a vacancy in the position of captain. Neither the rank or grade of Sgt. Klaes was affected by his reassignment.”
Klaes then filed an appeal in Clinton County District Court, claiming he has been seeking the captain’s role since Shields’ retirement, but on the same day that retirement became effective, Guy announced he was reorganizing the department by reducing the number of captains to three and promoting three additional sergeants to shift commander positions.
In his appeal, Klaes stated that on May 31, after receiving no response from the either Guy or the city attorney’s office, he appealed his denial of promotion and additional overtime pay to the commission.
“The defendant’s actions in failing to promote the plaintiff to captain were a subterfuge to undermine plaintiff’s claim to the rank of captain, and denied plaintiff the promotion to which he was entitled by statute,” his appeal read.
Also in the appeal, Klaes’s attorney, Wylie Pillers, stated the city’s actions have caused damage and harm to Klaes; that the commission acted contrary to its responsibilities by failing to appoint him to captain; unlawfully and illegally eliminated or reduced the number of captains so as to deprive him of his promotion; discriminated against Klaes by not promoting him to the position of captain, which he has served in for more than 90 days; that the actions of the city and the commission constituted a demotion in rank and grade; and that the defendants improperly and illegally eliminated the position of captain on Oct. 31, 2004, and Oct. 1, 2006, by not making a determination as to either the economic necessity or public interest.
The suit also claimed the reduction in rank and pay had been accomplished without just cause; that the city failed to make a finding of public interest as requested under state code for the diminution of employees in any classification or grade under civil service; and that the city, in adopting the resolution reducing captain numbers on both dates, failed to act in good faith as required by state code.
Klaes asked the court to hear the appeal, reverse the decision of the commission and enter an order requiring the promotion of Klaes to the position of captain, determine the amount of overtime pay Klaes may be entitled to and for such other and further relief the court may deem appropriate.
Instead, Howes ruled that “shift commander” is an assignment, not a rank, that “captain” is a rank, and that shift commander and captain do not mean the same thing.
She stated that although Klaes maintains that as shift commander he had all the duties of a captain, the court disagrees that the evidence proved that.
She stated there were discipline and management responsibilities that captians had that as a sergeant shift commander, Klaes did not have.
“The court agrees with the defendant’s assertion that Sergeant Klaes was filling a shift commander position, not a captain’s job,” she wrote. “The record establishes there were no captain openings, so it is irrelevant to this case that he was on the captain's promotion list.”
She also ruled that there is no evidence that the reduction in captains had anything to do whatsoever with trying not to promote Klaes.
Howes also stated Klaes wasn’t illegally demoted because he didn’t receive out of rank pay and that he was not entitled to the pay because the court found he was simply filling a position, not a captain’s job.
She also ruled that the City Council did nothing wrong when making its decisions and there was a legitimate and articulated public interest in the elimination of two of the five captain’s positions with the Clinton Police Department.
“This public interest was explained to the department, the city council and the public,” she ruled. “The court sees no evidence of any bad faith or improper motives on behalf of the Clinton City Council or Chief Guy.”