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Fulton County, Georgia v. Andrews

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 11, 2015

FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA
v.
ANDREWS et al

Civil Service Act. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Ellerbe.

Judgment affirmed.

R. David Ware, Kaye W. Burwell, Lanna R. Hill, Diana L. Freeman, for appellant.

Parks, Chesin & Walbert, A. Lee Parks, Andrew Y. Coffman, M. Travis Foust, for appellees.

MCMILLIAN, Judge. Barnes, P. J., and Ray, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 433

McMillian, Judge.

Appellees are current or former attorneys employed with the Office of the Public Defender, Atlanta Judicial Circuit (the " Public Defenders" ) who filed suit against Fulton County, Georgia (the " County" ), alleging breach of contract and violation of county laws. In their petition, the Public Defenders assert that, pursuant to the Civil Service Act of 1982 (the " Civil Service Act" ), they are entitled to the same compensation given to attorneys assigned to the Office of the County Attorney (the " County Attorneys" ). They allege, however, that the County increased the salary of the County Attorneys, creating an unlawful pay disparity between the two

Page 434

groups of attorneys. Following discovery, both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied the County's motion and granted the Public Defenders' motion. The County appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in concluding that (1) Fulton County personnel regulations constitute the parties' employment contract, as opposed to the " offer letters" received by the Public Defenders and (2) the County violated the personnel regulations by paying the Public Defenders less than other attorneys. Finding no error, we affirm.

" In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment, we conduct a de novo review to determine whether the undisputed facts warrant judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56." [332 Ga.App. 474] (Citation omitted.) Wright v. IC Enterprises, 330 Ga.App. 303, 303 (765 S.E.2d 484) (2014). And, " [t]he opposing party should be given the benefit of all reasonable doubt, and the court should construe the evidence and all inferences and conclusions arising therefrom most favorably toward the party opposing the motion." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id.

So viewed, the record shows that pursuant to a 1939 amendment to the Georgia Constitution, the General Assembly enacted a civil service merit system for Fulton County. Ga. L. 1943, p. 971. In 1982, the General Assembly passed a law revising the Fulton County civil service system, the express purpose of which was to establish

a high quality merit system of personnel administration based upon accepted merit principles and recognized methods governing the appointment, promotion, transfer, layoff, removal, discipline, and well-being of employees who are governed by this Act, and for related personnel actions associated with Fulton County employment.

Ga. L. 1982, pp. 4896-4897, § 1. Consequently, pursuant to the Civil Service Act, the County implemented a comprehensive set of " Personnel Regulations" that are vested with the " force and effect of law" [1] to create a civil service merit system wherein the County's Personnel Director must develop a " Position Classification Plan" for all positions " based upon similarity of duties performed and responsibilities assumed so that comparable qualifications may reasonably be required for and the same schedule of pay may be equitably applied to all positions in the same class." PR 200-1. Relevant to the Public Defenders' claims, PR 300-9 provides that the County's Personnel Board and Board of Commissioners " shall establish minimum and maximum salary rates for all ...


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