Pelham firefighter lawsuit going to jury trial

A lawsuit brought against Pelham by several current and former firefighters in 2010 is headed to a jury trial. (File)

A lawsuit brought against Pelham by several current and former firefighters in 2010 is headed to a jury trial. (File)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A lawsuit brought against Pelham in 2010 by a group of city firefighters will be decided during a jury trial in early 2014 after a federal judge decided the case can not be decided by mediation.

During an hour-and-a-half hearing on Dec. 13 in the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse in Birmingham, U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala announced the case will be scheduled for a jury trial in late February or early March 2014.

Haikala’s decision came after attorneys from both sides of the lawsuit said future mediation talks between the city and the plaintiffs likely would not result in a settlement.

The lawsuit, which since has become a class-action suit, was filed against Pelham in May 2010, and claimed Pelham violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Pelham civil service law by allegedly not properly compensating the firefighters for overtime worked.

The original lawsuit was filed by current firefighters Kenneth Camp, Todd McCarver, Patrick Smith and Stephen Kiel and retired firefighter Randall Bearden.

The Pelham City Council’s Nov. 4 meeting agenda originally included a resolution to reject a proposed memorandum of understanding to settle the lawsuit, but the item was removed from the agenda before the meeting and has not yet been voted on.

On Dec. 2, Birmingham Attorney Inge Johnstone, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed a motion claiming the city negotiated the memorandum of understanding “in bad faith, knowing that the mayor and the city’s lawyers did not have the authority to agree to a settlement on behalf of the city, and had no idea whether the terms they agreed to would be approved or not.” He asked the court to enforce the proposed memorandum of understanding.

On Dec. 6, the city’s attorneys filed a motion asking the court to strike Johnstone’s motion, and claimed Johnstone sought to undermine the city’s right to a fair by issuing a press release regarding the case on Dec. 2.

Haikala did not act on either motions during the Dec. 13 hearing, and instead sent the case to a jury trial.

“I would advise the parties to be very careful about the things they say to the media,” Haikala said, noting comments could influence potential future jurors in the case.