Trial date set in Pelham firefighter lawsuit

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

The jury trial for a lawsuit brought against Pelham in 2010 by a group of city firefighters is scheduled to begin in early March 2014 after a federal judge recently decided the case could not be settled outside court.

According to U.S. District Court documents, the trial is set to begin on March 3 before District Court Judge Madeline Haikala. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 10:30 a.m.

The trial’s scheduling came after an hour-and-a-half hearing on Dec. 13 at Birmingham’s Hugo Black Federal Courthouse, during which Haikala heard from attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit and said future mediation talks between the two sides will 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. Haikala also requested the plaintiffs and defendants to “be very careful about the things they say to the media” regarding the case.