August 30, 2006
MICHAEL J. FLAHERTY, JR., EUGENE P. ADAMS, (SR) JOSEPH A. AGRO, MARK D. ARCARA, RANDY G. ATTEA, JAMES F. BARGNESI, CHRISTOPHER J. BELLING, DIANA M. BOCCIO, TIMOTHY P. BRIDGE, CATHERINE A. CAREY, KENNETH F. CASE, MELISSA M. CHIASERA, PETER J. COSGROVE, PETER J. CROTTY, DON DALLY, JOHN DEFRANKS, JORGE S. DEROSAS, JOHN C. DOSCHER, G. MICHAEL DRMACICH, DANIEL DUBOIS, SUSAN ETU EAGAN, ROBERT C. FIGLIOLA, THOMAS M. FININERTY, JOHN J. FLYNN, THOMAS E. FOWLER, JR., LAURIE A. FRANK, ANTHONY L. FUMERELLE, COLLEEN CURTIN GABLE, LAUREN GAUTHIER, MARIO A. GIACOBBE, PAUL J. GLASCOTT, AMY J. GOLDSTEIN, KAREN GREENSPAN, GARY W. HACKBUSH, JEFFREY J. HAGEN, MARCY H. HAGEN, MEMORANDUM LOUIS A. HAREMSKI, RAYMOND C. HERMAN, JR., FRANK T. HOUSH, THOMAS P. HURLEY, AND WENDY R. IRENE, ROSANNE E. JOHNSON, CYDNEY A. KELLY, DAVID S. KELLY, JOSEPH L. KILBRIDGE, DANIEL M. KILLELEA, BRIAN M. KLEBBA, THOMAS D. KUBINIEC, J. PATRICK LENNON, SHARON M. LOVALLO, JASON C. LUNA, J. MICHAEL MARION, LATONIA D. GASTON MARSH, JOSEPH J. MARUSAK, MICHAEL I. MCCABE, MICHAEL J. MCHALE, BRIAN P. MCNAMARA, STEVEN MEYER, DONNA A. MILLING, MARION MISKOVSKI, JOSEPH M. MORDINO, MOLLY J. MUSARRA, JOSEPH A. MUSCATO, DIANE T. O'GORMAN, DIANE L. OAK, JUDITH G. OLIN, KELLEY A. OMEL, BRIAN K. PARKER, GLENN PINCUS, PAUL S. PIOTROWSKI, FREDERICK J. PLATEK, JR., BRANDON A. PORTIS, LYNETTE M. REDA, EMILIA RODRIGUEZ, LISA M. RODWIN, WALTER L. ROOTH III, MARK A. SACHA, ROBERT A. SCHARLOCK, PAUL E. SCHARMACH, JOHN G. SCHOEMICK, DENISE M. SCHUNKE, LAWRENCE M. SCHWEGLER, FRANK J. SEDITA, DANIEL R. SLADE, TINA M. STANFORD, DOUGLAS P. STILLER, LETIZIA P. TAGLIAFIERRO, BETTY CALVO TORRES, THOMAS D. TRBOVICH, HOLLY P. TUCKER, YVONNE VERTLIEB, LOUIS P. VIOLANTI, CANDACE K. VOGEL, PAULINE C. WILL, PAUL J. WILLIAMS III, LISA M. YAEGER AND BARRY A. ZAVAH, PLAINTIFFS,
JOEL A. GIAMBRA, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE, COUNTY LEGISLATURE OF ERIE COUNTY, LEONARD R. LENIHAN, ERIE COUNTY PERSONNEL COMMISSIONER, AND COUNTY OF ERIE, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Elfvin S.U.S.D.J.
The Plaintiffs are current and former employees of the Erie County District Attorney's Office.*fn2 They commenced this action against the Defendants*fn3 alleging that their Equal Protection rights were violated when they were denied cost of living increases and salary increments for 2002 and were also required to contribute 10% of the cost of their health insurance premiums.*fn4 Pending before the Court are the Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCvP") seeking a ruling that their Equal Protection rights were violated and/or dismissing the Defendants' asserted defenses, as well as the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Both Motions have been fully briefed and oral argument was heard by the Court on September 23, 2005.
The following facts are taken from the submissions of the parties and are, except where noted, undisputed.
The Plaintiffs were all employed in various capacities by the District Attorney's Office during the period from November 2001 to March 2002, or during some portion thereof. Erie County ("the County") has a policy that employees occupying positions with similar levels of responsibility should be compensated equally. Plaintiffs' Rule 56.1 Statement, Ex. J. Accordingly, the County utilizes a graded compensation system whereby each employment position within the County is assigned a job grade of 1 to 22. Plaintiffs' Rule 56.1 Statement, Ex. L. Positions with equal or similar levels of responsibility are generally assigned to the same job grade. The vast majority of the Plaintiffs were Assistant District Attorneys who occupied positions with job grades of 11 to 15. Five of the Plaintiffs were employed by the District Attorney's office in non-attorney positions.
In addition to the job grade assigned by the County, each position is assigned a civil service classification under New York State law. All of the Plaintiffs were classified as "managerial/confidential" employees. New York State Civil Service Law §214 precludes managerial/confidential employees from becoming members of any employee organization. All of the Plaintiffs were so precluded and therefore none was covered by a collective bargaining agreement with the County. Pursuant to New York County Law §205, the Plaintiffs' compensation was fixed by the Erie County Legislature ("the Legislature"). The Legislature was and is empowered to raise and lower such compensation subject to statutory and constitutional considerations. N.Y. County Law §205.
In 1999, the County reached a collective bargaining agreement with the unions representing eligible white-collar workers for the years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003. On July 15, 1999, the Legislature passed Comm. 14E-14, a resolution which extended the benefits of those collective bargaining agreements to employees who - like the Plaintiffs - were not members of the collective bargaining unit due to their managerial/confidential employee classification.*fn5
Thereafter, all County employees, regardless of their civil service classification or membership in the collective bargaining unit, enjoyed the scheduled step increases and other salary benefits contained within the collective bargaining agreements.
In 2001, members of the County administration began to fear a budget deficit for 2002. Joseph Passafiume, the then-budget director for the County, projected a $19 million budget gap due in part to increased costs for Medicaid for which the County would not be reimbursed by the State of New York and in part due to an estimated $7 million decrease in County sales tax revenue. FRCvP 56.1 Statement, Ex. P. Passafiume stated that, based on those projections, as well as the heightened uncertainty surrounding available aid from New York State in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, he recommended that a salary freeze be implemented and that the County eliminate a number of jobs. FRCvP 56.1 Statement, Ex. O. The suggestion of implementing a salary freeze originated with Passafiume. Ibid.
In November 2001, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra ("Giambra") submitted his proposed 2002 budget to the Legislature for its consideration. While the proposed budget provided for cost of living increases and salary increments for County employees who were covered by collective bargaining agreements, the proposed budget did not include any such increases for County employees who were classified as managerial/confidential. The proposed budget also eliminated 255 County jobs. In his budget message accompanying the proposed budget, Giambra stated his goal: "[M]y goal is to cut, coordinate and grow - cut the local property tax burden and coordinate government service-delivery functions so that the regional economy can grow. "Now, during a national economic downturn, and in the face of widespread fiscal distress, it is more important than ever that we in Erie County government stay focused on reducing the size and cost of local government."
Giambra's 2002 Budget Message and Summary at 1-2, Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement, Ex. N.*fn6
On December 21, 2001 the Legislature passed various budget resolutions, including the resolutions implementing the salary freeze and the health care cost contribution for managerial/confidential employees.*fn7 The Legislature thereafter adopted the budget containing those resolutions. In 2002, all County employees classified as managerial/confidential were denied salary increases and were required to contribute 10% of the cost of their health insurance premiums consistent with the salary freeze, while County employees in all job grades who were not so classified received their salary increases for 2002 and were not required to contribute to the cost of their health insurance.*fn8 The County saved approximately $1 million by instituting the salary freeze and over $6.1 million by eliminating the 255 jobs. Plaintiffs' Rule 56.1 Statement, Ex. O.
Plaintiff Michael Flaherty initially filed this action in New York State Supreme Court, Erie County, as an Article 78 proceeding on March 8, 2002. After the Defendants removed the action to this Court, Flaherty amended the complaint on August 26, 2003 and the other Plaintiffs joined the action at that time. The Plaintiffs assert that by treating employees classified as managerial/confidential disparately from other employees in positions with identical job grades but not so classified, the Defendants violated their equal protections rights ...
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