North Huntingdon to vote on $85,300 settlement with police officers
Two North Huntingdon police officers, who filed a lawsuit against the township claiming they were underpaid while on active duty with the Pennsylvania National Guard, may receive $59,500 of a proposed $85,300 settlement..
North Huntingdon commissioners are expected to vote Wednesday on the out-of-court settlement with officers Justin Wardman and Mark Hamilton. The officers filed suit against the township in Westmoreland County in June 2017.
Under terms of the proposed settlement, Wardman would receive $42,000 and Hamilton would receive $17,500. Their attorney, Susan Mahood of Pittsburgh, who declined to comment, would get $25,800 for her legal work on the case.
Wardman, a member of the state’s Army National Guard, was deployed to Iraq from August 2008 to November 2009 and then again from March 2011 through July 2012, according to the lawsuit. Hamilton was placed on active duty by the Air National Guard twice in 2011 and three times in 2013, for a total of about eight months.
The officers were seeking a little over $168,000, plus costs. Wardman said he was owed $119,898 in unpaid military leave and Hamilton claimed he was owed $48,923, according to the lawsuit. Wardman and Hamilton could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit alleges North Huntingdon violated the Pennsylvania Military Code when it paid the officers the difference between their regular salary and their military pay. The township responded by saying it followed state law and North Huntingdon’s 2008 policy when it paid the officers. The officers’ interpretation of the policy was “distorted and unreasonable,” the township said.
A possible settlement arose during a Nov. 6 pretrial conference before Judge Anthony Marsilli, according to court documents.
North Huntingdon Commissioner Zachary Haigis, board president, said he opposes the deal.
Haigis said the township received a legal opinion that it had a strong case because it followed the township’s 2008 policy, which allows up to 400 days of paid military leave.
“They’re asking for their full township pay, plus their military pay,” Haigis said.
The lawsuit states the Commonwealth Court ruled in a case involving the Tyrone School District that paying the difference between a worker’s pay and their military pay violates the Pennsylvania Military Code.
Haigis said the settlement would have to be paid with township funds, rather than from an insurance policy.
Commissioner Anthony Martino, board president when the lawsuit was filed, declined comment prior to the Wednesday vote.
Commissioner Brian Blasko, who was not on the board when the lawsuit was filed, said based on the facts, “the officers would be entitled to their pay.”
Blasko said North Huntingdon’s 2008 policy on military leave states that “those serving in the military shall be eligible for full-time pay by the township while an employee is on active military leave.” He said the policy, which was revised in 2013, “was poorly written and should never have been approved due to its poor syntax, grammar and semantics.”
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252 or [email protected]