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City sued by officer fired in overtime scandal

09 Dec 2011

One of the figures in the Durham Police Department’s 2009 overtime scandal has sued the city in federal court, alleging that her firing resulted from gender discrimination.

Former Officer Alesha Robinson-Taylor wants her old job back and monetary damages from the city, according to the complaint lawyer Michael Kornbluth filed on her behalf in late August.

Robinson-Taylor was sacked in October 2009, becoming the second of two departmental casualties in a scandal that broke after senior administrators learned she’d collected $62,583 in overtime in the course of a year or so.

She received the money, more than double her annual salary, as head of the Police Department’s “secondary employment” program. In it, she helped assign officers to off-duty moonlighting jobs.

Kornbluth portrayed his client, the daughter of a former Police Department lieutenant, as an honest cop who was “working the equivalent of two full-time jobs” because she was also the department’s towing inspector.

Robinson-Taylor asked for a 5 percent raise on receiving the added responsibilities, the suit said.

But her then-supervisor, former Capt. Ron Evans, told her “to not worry about” it because “the additional pay with the overtime hours she would accumulate” doing two jobs would make up for it, Kornbluth said in the lawsuit.

She was put in charge in May 2008, in the midst of an investigation into “discriminatory scheduling” of moonlighting assignments, and told to make the system “as fair as possible.”

Kornbluth said his client did that by “making employment opportunities” and herself available to other officers 24/7 so those who didn’t work traditional business hours could find extra jobs.

Little more than six months in, a captain who replaced Evans, Charlene Balch, told Robinson-Taylor to reduce her overtime by not accepting moonlighting-related calls on weekends.

According to the lawsuit, that caused in just one weekend “a catastrophe” that Balch’s boss, former Deputy Police Chief Beverly Council, responded to by ordering Robinson-Taylor to resume 24-hour service

Council “explicitly told” Robinson-Taylor she knew how much overtime that would involve, and that as deputy chief she “would take full responsibility for that overtime and any ramifications for incurring it,” Kornbluth said in the suit.

The former deputy chief in fact became the first casualty of the overtime scandal, opting for an October 2009 retirement in lieu of a firing after city auditors reported that Council had signed most of Robinson-Taylor’s overtime chits.

The auditors also said there was little documentation proving Robinson-Taylor had worked as many hours as she claimed. They further questioned the need for her to have worked anything beyond a normal schedule.

Previously, a June 2008 report by former Police Department Staff Inspector Duane Hampton identified Council and Robinson-Taylor as two members of a group of officers who’d received an unusual number of moonlighting jobs that hadn’t been advertised to other members of the force.

Hampton’s report, from the timing, appears to have been the discrimination investigation that Kornbluth claims prompted his client’s assignment to head the secondary employment program.

The lawsuit names as defendants City Manager Tom Bonfield and Police Chief Jose Lopez, along with the city as a corporate entity.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Kim Grantham filed the city’s answer to the suit on Sept. 21. In it, she said city officials acted on evidence “sufficient to warrant” the move when they fired Robinson-Taylor.

Grantham also argued Robinson-Taylor had “fail[ed] to properly carry out the responsibilities” of her position, and that the former officer’s claim should be tossed because she has “unclean hands.”

Robinson-Taylor argues she was the victim of gender discrimination because, unlike four male officers who got into trouble, she wasn’t “given notice of potentially problematic work issues and given opportunities to correct them.”

The four men Kornbluth singled out all faced criminal charges in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and resigned in lieu of being fired. But the suit omitted mention of a fifth who was fired late last year after being arrested and charged with having driven under the influence while on duty.

Read more:
The Herald-Sun - City sued by officer fired in overtime scandal