Editor’s note: This is one of multiple stories from the Oct. 10 City Council meeting.
City Council members on Oct. 10 unanimously authorized a $1.5 million lawsuit settlement for 16 current and former telecommunication/911 operators who sued the City of Evanston over its scheduling practices between 2004 and 2021.
Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings in a memo about the lawsuit, Capesius et al. v. City of Evanston, said, “The $1,534,613.01 represents all back pay and statutory damages required to be paid pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Illinois Minimum Wage Act, which allows recovery dating back three years, as well as attorneys’ fees.”
The settlement was paid partly from the city’s insurance fund and partly from payroll, because it included back pay for the employees.
The city has a self-retention of $1.25 million, Cummings said in response to questions at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, held earlier in the evening. Amounts above that would normally be covered by the city’s insurer, but that insurer rejected this claim “because it is a wage-and-hour claim,” he said.
Cummings’s memo said that in an effort to address staffing shortages in 2004-21, the city paid the employees on the basis of an 80-hour pay period rather than a 40-hour work week. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor in late 2021 opened an investigation into the practice.
“As a result, the City changed the schedule, requiring the two teams to work 40 hours one week and 40.5 the second week in the pay period. At the conclusion of the investigation, each telecommunicator retained counsel and sued, culminating in this lawsuit,” the memo said.
At the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, asked Cummings about the lawsuit, the settlement and what the city is doing to prevent similar suits.
Cummings said Reid could ask the City Manager Luke Stowe and added, “I don’t want to speak for the City Manager, but I know that we are [doing some things].
“We’ve had a lot of new faces in the administration of the city. So we are constantly reviewing and making sure that we have these sorts of work schedules and in various practices that they are in line with the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
He said the employee handbook was revised in August 2020, and the city is trying to make sure that discussions between labor and management are lawful and that the proper people are at the table.
“We are paying close attention to every aspect of our government in making sure that we are following the law,” Cummings said.