Class Action Lawsuit Takes Aim At Ed FitzGerald

On behalf of all classified civil service employees of Cuyahoga County, Warren Dolezal, Jack Gallagher and Jeffrey Dobransky filed a class action lawsuit against County Executive Ed FitzGerald this month.

The three men allege that, since Jan. 1, 2010, they've seen compensation reduced either without cause or based on age or political inclinations. Via the lawsuit, they are seeking the restoration of pay, relief from any forms of discrimination (age and/or political, in most cases) and a declaration that bullshit tactics like that will not continue.

When FitzGerald and the new charter form of county government showed up to work in January 2011, the incoming executive promised a world of transparency and a general departure from the questionable dealings of his predecessors. (Meanwhile, Fitz's alternate moniker "Public Official 14" ensures that the past remains firmly entrenched in the present.)

As far as the plaintiffs in this case go, Dolezal is a 22-year veteran of the Public Works Department. With no disciplinary history under his belt, he was reclassified downward in 2012 and his pay was slashed by 13 percent. In the end, his duties and workload remained the same, he alleges. Gallagher is a 28-year veteran of the Department of Weights and Measures. Similarly, in mid-2012, his classification was lowered and his pay was dropped by 13.5 percent. Lastly, Dobransky is a 27-year veteran of the Public Works Department, working as a bridge inspector. His pay was cut by 10 percent during a reclassification move last year.

According to the text of the lawsuit, FitzGerald did not set forth any of the relevant criteria in declassifying the plaintiffs' employment. Those criteria include, per Ohio Revised Code, incompetency, inefficiency, dishonesty, drunkenness, immoral conduct, insubordination, discourteous treatment of the public, neglect of duty, violation of any policy or work rule of the officer's or employee's appointing authority, or violation of ORC Section 124.34, which goes on to greater detail and so forth.

And interestingly enough, the Ohio Administrative Code has this to say about reclassification and pay rates:

An employee that is assigned into a lower classification shall be placed in the step within the new pay range that provides the employee with compensation that is equal to his or her current rate or that provides the least amount of increase, but no decrease, in pay. Appointing authorities shall consider all applicable pay supplements to ensure that an employee reassigned pursuant to this rule does not receive a decrease in pay.

The road through the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas seems overly rocky, however. The county's Human Resources Department holds a mighty hand, through tinkering with classification descriptions and ensuring that employees' claims of disparity encounter a formidable burden of proof. And since no employee was reclassified due to disciplinary action, that cannot form the basis of an appeal to the civil service commission.

The Plain Dealer, for its part, posted the story on at 6 a.m. last Saturday. It's what we in the biz like to call a weekend news dump... Although, typically it's the public relations department of an organization leaking controversial news to the media during off-hours in those cases, not a major metro daily.

View the lawsuit's text online.

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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