Raleigh News & Observer

March 17th, 2014


NC troopers sue to win back pay increases

A Waynesville attorney filed a lawsuit in state court Monday on behalf of 39 troopers across the state seeking tens of thousands of dollars each in pay increases and benefits they say were illegally withheld from them for several years.

David Wijewickrama is seeking class action status for the suit, which could then ultimately bring in more than 500 troopers that he says should also have received the compensation increases.

The pay battle could also cross over to magistrates and court clerks, who he said also were entitled to automatic "step" increases in pay. Highway Patrol salaries have been largely frozen since 2009 by state lawmakers and two governors seeking to balance budgets during economic hard times.

As a result, a trooper who had served long enough to become a master trooper before pay freezes hit is now making tens of thousands more than those who worked the same number of years but after the pay was frozen, Wijewickarama said.

"What you've got is guys working out here for six, seven years making $37,000 a year, and they are working beside other master troopers who are making $60,000 a year, and they are facing the same criminals shooting bullets at them," Wijewickrama in an interview. "It is absolutely unconscionable what the state has done to them."

Some of those troopers, he said, are struggling financially as a result and are dealing with foreclosures and medical bills they can't pay. Some, he said, are eligible for public assistance.

The suit was filed this morning in Cherokee County. It names State Treasurer Janet Cowell, state Crime Control Secretary Frank Perry and the state as defendants.

Wijewickrama said if the state were to restore the pay increases and related benefits such as full 401K and pension payments to the more than 500 troopers affected by the freezes it could cost the state roughly $7 million to $10 million.

In January, Gov. Pat McCrory announced that roughly 600 law enforcement officers would receive pay increases of up to 4 percent, but it is unclear whether that was to help deal with frozen pay for troopers.

Source: http://bit.ly/1oilGT9