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About 350 employees with Georgia’s DeKalb County public safety and sheriff’s departments are suing the county to end a wage plan they say pays higher salaries to people with less experience. A. Leroy “Lee” Parks of Parks, Chesin, Walbert & Miller in Atlanta is representing the plaintiffs. He could not be reached for comment. The employees who have sued in U.S. District Court encompass the two departments’ most senior staff. They include 201 police officers, 73 firefighters, 36 sheriff’s deputies, 31 paramedics and 13 members of the emergency communications staff that dispatches 911 calls. The claims are contained in four suits naming the county and Chief Executive Officer Vernon A. Jones as defendants. Robertson v. DeKalb County, No. 1:02-cv-1266 (N.D. Ga. May 10, 2002); McClain v. DeKalb County, No. 1:02-cv-1267 (N.D. Ga. May 10, 2002); Craig v. DeKalb County, No. 1:02-cv-1268 (N.D. Ga. May 10, 2002); Cates v. DeKalb County, No. 1:02-cv-1269. (N.D. Ga. May 10, 2002). Jones could not be reached for comment. The suits were originally filed in DeKalb County Superior Court in April 2001. But attorney Charles G. Hicks sought to remove them to federal court, claiming that is the best venue for litigating the employees’ “unequal pay for equal work” claims that they say violate state and federal civil rights laws. On Tuesday, Hicks could not be reached for comment. The suits stem from a pay plan implemented by the county two years ago to raise salaries for county workers. At the time, wages, particularly entry-level salaries for DeKalb’s police and fire departments, had fallen below those of almost every other metro Atlanta county. PricewaterhouseCoopers, which conducted a study that recommended new pay rates, advised the county to consider raises for senior employees also in order to avoid “wage compression.” Wage compression describes situations in which escalating starting pay narrows the compensation gap between junior and senior employees. But county commissioners were wary of the plan’s price tag of about $23 million, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. According to the suits, “employees of equal or lower rank who have less time with the [county], have less time in grade and have equal or lesser other qualifications, are paid more” than the senior county employees named as plaintiffs. In the Emergency Medical Services department, one lieutenant made an estimated $1,500 a month more than his captain, who had seniority. A senior paramedic made about $1,100 more than that captain, according to examples cited in one suit.

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