A federal judge signed off Friday on Richmond's $7 million settlement with hundreds of current and former police officers, the final step in resolving the dispute over unpaid overtime.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson approved the agreement four days after Richmond's City Council unanimously endorsed the settlement between the city and the 614 officers represented by the lawsuit. A written copy of the judge's decision was not available, a court clerk said.
Lead plaintiff Stacy Rogers, president of the Richmond Coalition of Police union, said the settlement includes millions in back pay for the officers and sets new policies to bring the city immediately into compliance with state law.
"I think the guys are very happy this situation is resolved," Rogers said, adding that officers will get "every dollar" they were owed from September 2008 until now. "At the end of the day, the officers that received their settlement offers are overwhelmingly pleased with it."
The officers sued to collect on overtime they should have been paid under a state law passed in 2005 and pushed by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, then a state senator.
"Today's settlement not only pays the officers for the overtime they had worked in the past, but guarantees that they will be paid consistent with Virginia law … for overtime that they work in the future," Cuccinelli said in a statement. "Members of Virginia law enforcement have shown tremendous dedication and loyalty to serving the commonwealth, and we did everything we could to return that dedication and loyalty by getting them the compensation they deserved."
The law required localities employing at least 100 officers to pay them at 1½ their normal rate for any hours beyond 80 in a 14-day span. Richmond argued that the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires overtime pay for law officers starting at 86 hours, trumped the state law.
In March, Hudson denied the city's motion to dismiss part of the suit based on those grounds.
"We never contended that the city did not comply with federal law regarding overtime compensation," Cuccinelli said in a statement. "However, they were not complying with state law, and the city has to abide by both federal and state law as long as they are not in conflict with one another."
Rogers said police officers are generally reluctant to sue but that they were unable to resolve the issue with city officials prior to filing the lawsuit.
"We actually went and tried to meet with the city ahead of time. Unfortunately in this case it had to go to litigation to get it settled," Rogers said. "We're pleased not to have this thing dragged out and cost the taxpayers any additional money."
Both federal and state law allowed the officers to recover wages going back only three years from the date the suit was filed, meaning the officers left a considerable amount of money on the table by waiting until last year to file the suit, said Harris D. Butler III, a lawyer with Richmond firm Butler Royals who represented the officers, along with co-counsel Craig J. Curwood.
"They would have preferred to have never filed a lawsuit," Butler said, adding that the suit was the first test of the 2005 law.
"Until a judge rules on it, there's always an argument," Butler said. "We felt strongly about the case and the merits, and the judge agreed with us."
Mayor Dwight C. Jones called the settlement "fair and balanced for all parties involved" in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
"There are no sour grapes in the outcome of this settlement as our police officers deserve every penny of the compensation they will receive," Jones said. "I am glad that we are able to place this behind us, as now we will move forward in protecting and serving the rights of Richmond residents and guests."
As of the end of June, the city had spent nearly $600,000 to fight the suit.