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Judge Rules Against Parks and Rec Employees in Lawsuit

A Shawnee County, Kan., judge has ruled in favor of the city of Topeka in a lawsuit filed by 10 former parks and recreation employees. The lawsuit was filed in May 2012 by the 10 employees following the merger of the city’s parks and recreation department with the county of Shawnee’s parks and recreation department. The case was brought before Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca W. Crotty in April and a verdict issued last week.

The employees, who were all terminated by the city on Dec. 31, 2011, and rehired as county employees the following day, sought $1 million in severance pay and related penalty fees. According to the lawsuit, the employees claimed that the city violated the Kansas Wage Payment Act, which would have entitled them to severance pay, and that the city violated its own personnel code requiring it to offer severance benefits.

A third allegation accusing the city of misleading the employees into signing a waiver of rights was dismissed in 2014.

The city argued that as part of the consolidation with the county parks and recreation department, a new class of employee had been created — “transferring employee” — to protect the benefits of the employees, and the employees were never actually terminated.

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The “transferring employee” class allowed the workers to carry over their accrued seniority to their new positions, which were comparable to those held with the city parks and recreation department. They were given comparable wages and benefits, as well.

As reported by the Topeka Capital Journal, Judge Crotty agreed with the city’s creation of a new class on the grounds that “there was a significant and legitimate public interest behind the consolidation; the county jobs were comparable to their city jobs; and the benefits of the transfer outweighed the detriments to all those employees as a group.”

Five of the 10 employees involved in the suit continue to work for the parks department, while the remaining five have voluntarily moved on.

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