City asks dismissal of lawsuit spawned by overtime scandal

Feb. 20, 2013 @ 06:52 PM

With a trial date approaching, city lawyers have asked a judge to dismiss the discrimination lawsuit filed by a figure in the Durham Police Department’s 2009 overtime scandal.

Former Officer Alesha Robinson-Taylor can’t prove discrimination by city leaders because she engaged in double dipping and, like other officers so accused, was sacked for it, Senior Assistant City Attorney Kim Rehberg argued in a recent court filing

In fact, Robinson-Taylor and her lawyer “can point to no other police officer – male or female – who engaged in the same misconduct … let alone another officer who engaged in such behavior and was not disciplined,” Rehberg in the dismissal request.

The filing, relayed to federal officials last week, came as lawyers on both sides prepare for a settlement conference March 21 and a trial scheduled to begin April 1.

Robinson-Taylor was one of two key figures in the 2009 overtime scandal, which surfaced after a tipster emailed City Manager Tom Bonfield about the administration of moonlighting assignments in the Police Department.

As head of “secondary employment,” Robinson-Taylor was responsible for posting potential off-duty security assignments and making sure officers who signed up for them received their paychecks, she said in a Dec. 21 deposition.

But auditors who investigated at Bonfield’s request found that Robinson-Taylor had collected $62,583 in overtime – more than double her annual salary – in the course of a year or so.

The former officer claims the money was honestly earned. Responding to a critical internal report, former Deputy Police Chief Beverly “B.J.” Council wanted the program’s administration to run 24/7 so off-duty assignments would be posted quickly, Robinson-Taylor said.

But auditors said they couldn’t find any documented proof Robinson-Taylor had worked all the hours she claimed. Council, who had signed the officer’s pay requests, resigned as the audit was being released.

The auditors also found an overlap in Robinson-Taylor’s pay requests. She received both overtime and comp-time payments for 581 hours of work she claimed to have performed on her days off.

That was the alleged double dipping Rebherg singled out in her brief. And Council, in her own deposition, agreed that officers can’t receive two forms of pay for the same hours.

Asked if she would consider it double dipping if someone simultaneously claimed vacation and time worked, Council was succinct. “Yes, sir,” she told the lawyer who posed the query.

She added that the department had sacked an officer in the late 1980s who had been caught working a moonlighting job while on duty.

Police Chief Jose Lopez likewise told lawyers he didn’t consider double dipping appropriate.

“You should not come in and be compensated again because you decided to show up to work at a time when you’re being compensated not to work,” he said in answer to a question from Rehberg.

He added that the proper way for officers to handle overlaps is to “stop their vacation time,” report to work and go on the clock. “If you’re getting paid, as an example, $10 an hour, you should only receive the $10,” Lopez told lawyers.

Robinson-Taylor’s explanation for the issue was that she was under pressure to reduce her backlog of comp time while also maintaining a heavy workload.

“I was working because I had to work,” she told Rehberg.

She also said there’d been talk of commanders assigning another officer to help her.

But Council vetoed two officers Robinson-Taylor suggested as potential backups, one because she “didn’t want him up” in the command offices and the other because “she couldn’t stand him.” A third candidate appeared acceptable to all concerned, but “nothing ever came” of that option, Robinson-Taylor said.

Council told lawyers she was supposed to verify and approve Robinson-Taylor’s overtime claims. But she admitted that she “just signed them” without verifying them, on the assumption the coordinator “was doing what she needed to do and do[ing] it correctly.”

Robinson-Taylor – who in her deposition said Police Department commanders customarily didn’t bother with the quarterly coaching of employees they’re supposed to offer – was critical of Council’s oversight.

“She wasn’t doing her job,” Robinson-Taylor said of the department’s former No. 2.

But she admitted that her own record-keeping was spotty. “I kept it in my head a lot,” she said of her claims of hours worked.

Robinson-Taylor said the incident and the publicity surrounding it left her humiliated and depressed, and eventually prompted her to seek medical treatment.

“It’s one thing to lose your job,” she told Rehberg. “It’s a whole other thing for it to be on TV every day and a press conference, like, you know, I shot up a school or something. It was every day, and it was constant, and I was embarrassed.”