Raleigh rejects police officers’ legal arguments in dispute over ‘stand-by pay’

Image from raleighnc.gov.

Listen to this story (5 minutes)

  • Raleigh is asking the N.C. Court of Appeals to reject a lawsuit from 37 police officers. The police argue that they are owed back "stand-by pay" for work prior to 2018.
  • City lawyers write that a Raleigh policy required prior approval for any employees to be designated for stand-by pay, even if the employees worked on stand-by or on-call duty.
  • A trial judge ruled against the officers in 2022.

The city of Raleigh is urging the N.C. Court of Appeals to reject the case of 37 police officers who claim they are owed back “stand-by pay.” The city filed a new brief Tuesday with the state’s second-highest court.

The officers initially filed grievances in the pay dispute in July 2017. They took their case to court in 2021. A trial judge ruled against them in September 2022.

A 2018 change in city policy expanded stand-by pay to additional officers. The ongoing legal action applies only to officers’ service prior to that change.

The dispute involves a city policy titled SOP 300-7, adopted in 1985. Section 4.0 of that policy says Raleigh will pay “designated personnel for being on stand-by duty,” according to the city’s latest brief. The policy requires a specific procedure involving the department head and the city manager.

“Historically, only a small number of positions have been designated and approved to receive Stand-By Pay: Evidence Specialist, Animal Control Officer, Detective Sergeant, and the on call Internal Affairs Unit Sergeant,” city lawyers wrote. “These positions were designated and approved to receive Stand-By Pay because the Police Chief recognized a need to have an individual responsible for returning to work if a need for their specialized services arose.

Other police officers face a different set of rules, according to Raleigh’s brief. “Positions that receive Stand-By Pay and those positions that are ‘on-call’ or ‘stand-by’ without receiving the pay are different in a number of respects. Being ‘on-call’ or on unpaid ‘stand-by duty’ is more like being on a ‘first to call’ list.”

“Unlike other positions who were placed on a ‘first to call list,’ individuals in these designated and approved positions were subject to disciplinary action if they did not return to duty when required,” the brief explained. “Individuals who are not receiving Stand-By Pay are free to travel to the beach and mountains and were not subjecting to discipline if they failed to respond to a call.”

The legal action stemmed from a March 2017 incident involving an evidence technician on stand-by duty who failed to respond promptly to calls. A series of follow-up departmental memos raised questions about whether members of the police selective enforcement and homicide units should get stand-by pay. Both units won approval for stand-by pay in 2018.

“Petitioners did not proffer any evidence showing that prior to 1 July 2018, SEU and Homicide had been designated and approved to receive Stand-By Pay pursuant to the procedures mandated by SOP 300-7,” according to the Raleigh brief. “Specifically, Petitioners did not produce any evidence that the Department Head, Chief of Police [Cassandra] Deck-Brown, who had been the Department Head since 2013, or any other police chief prior to her tenure, had ever made a request to the City Manager for approval of Stand-By Pay for SEU or Homicide. Instead, Petitioners continued to argue in a circular fashion that because they were assigned stand-by duty, they were entitled to Stand-By Pay.”

“The fundamental issue in this case is whether performance of stand-by duty entitles Petitioners to Stand-By Pay under SOP 300-7. The answer to this question is no,” city lawyers argued. “Here, the Trial Court correctly determined Petitioners were not entitled to Stand-By Pay simply because they performed stand-by duty.”

In their own brief, filed in May, the officers argued that their roles entitled them to back stand-by pay. “Though assigned to and performing stand-by duty for years as sworn officers in the police department, these Petitioners, as city employees, were never paid the eight hours of stand-by pay for weeks they were on call as provided for in City Policy 300-7 until July 1, 2018, when the city began paying them stand-by pay during the litigation.”

The police plaintiffs argued that Raleigh violated its own policies. “The ruling by the trial court concluding that Petitioners, as city employees, could be required to perform stand-by duties without stand-by pay and allows the City of Raleigh to decline to pay some city employees placed on stand-by duty is erroneous as a matter of law,” police officers’ lawyers’ wrote. “The policy clearly states that employees approved to perform stand-by duty, assigned and performing stand-by duty ‘shall’ be paid the eight hours of pay for each week of such duty.”

Officers seeking back stand-by pay will have a chance to reply to the city’ latest arguments. The N.C. Court of Appeals has not yet scheduled the case, Albert v. City of Raleigh, for oral arguments.