City Fires Back On Suit

WHEELING – Theresa Garrett’s former position as executive director of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission put her on par with other city department heads, and thus she never was entitled to receive compensatory time off in return for overtime hours worked, according to city officials.

Garrett, who left her job July 31 after 26 years, is suing the city for approximately $5,700 she claims she’s owed in accrued sick leave, vacation time and “comp time” to which some municipal employees are entitled in return for working overtime.

The city’s response to Garrett’s lawsuit states City Manager Robert Herron was within his authority to redesignate time that Garrett took off in July – claimed as comp time – as vacation time because Garrett was never entitled to such a benefit. Regarding Garrett’s claim that the commission pre-approved her use of comp time, the city said such action was beyond the commission’s authority because Herron has sole authority to set compensation for employees.

Salaried employees such as Garrett are not entitled to receive compensatory time off for hours worked in excess of 40 per week as are hourly employees, according to the city.

“There was questionable accountability in the ranks of the Human Rights Commission from all appearances,” City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth wrote. “Simply put, this notion of ‘comp time’ and overtime for a department head … is unwarranted, ridiculous, not analogous to any other similar employee, (and) a claim for an unauthorized expenditure of public money.”

The city’s response also includes an affidavit from Finance Department employee Judy Rice stating no department head, including Garrett, ever has received overtime pay or comp time.

Garrett also claims she should be paid for 25.5 days of accrued sick leave as a retiree. Only retirees are entitled to be paid for 10 percent of their built-up sick hours, according to city policy, but Garrett is not a retiree because she was not a member of the municipal pension plan, city officials assert.

Earlier this year, City Council voted to slash the Human Rights Commission budget from $66,000 to just $14,000 this year. Rather than accept a reduction to part-time status, Garrett informed city officials June 28 of her intent to retire. She claims Human Resources Director Leslie Waechter informed her last year she was eligible to retire, but an affidavit signed by Waechter states she agrees with a July 5 letter from Herron to Garrett informing her she would not be considered a retiree.