A federal jury has awarded nearly $1 million in wages and damages to a former McPherson, Kansas, police officer who was fired after being found asleep on duty.
According to the McPherson Sentinel, Matthew B. Michaels alleged the city violated his civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the Kansas Wage Payment Act when he was fired for sleeping on the job. Michaels has sleep apnea, and claims that the disability resulted in his dismissal, which was a violation of his rights. It appears the courts agree.
Michaels alleged he was denied a “name clearing hearing” after his termination, was denied four days of vacation, and that the city interfered with one day of family medical leave. Michael’s attorney, Ray Simmons, said in an email to The Associated Press Thursday that Michaels is pleased to get a “name-clearing hearing” in federal court, where a jury rendered a verdict in his favor. The court judgement came as a shock to many. On Wednesday, the city was ordered to pay $921,657, plus interest, court costs, and attorney’s fees, to Michaels for his back and future wages and damages for pain and suffering.
The Kansas City Star notes that City Attorney Jeff Houston said the fight is not over. The city has filed motions in the case that are yet to be decided, including one that asks a judge to overturn the jury’s verdict. Houston says he still has “faith in the process” despite the verdict.
“The city is disappointed in the jury verdict, but we still have faith in the process, and we are moving forward under that belief.”
If the city is unsuccessful in its fight to overturn the verdict and an appeal, the city’s insurance would be required to pay Michaels the full judgement amount. Attorneys for the city’s insurer are handling the case, and say the city has already met its deductible in relation to this lawsuit.
This isn’t the first lawsuit Michaels has filed against the city. A case was settled in April that involved Michaels alleging the city owed him and other officers for unpaid overtime for the department’s “hot seat” program. This program involved officers being picked up for work about five minutes prior to the start of their shifts. It was a long-standing program that was popular among officers because it allowed many to be one-car families.
However, if a call came in when the officers were on the way to the station, they had to respond. The city terminated the hot seat program in light of the lawsuit. Two other officers joined a class action with Michaels. The three officers were paid $38,019 in back pay and other fees to settle the lawsuit. The city denied its policy was a willful violation of the law.
What do you think about the outcome of the lawsuit? Is Michaels entitled to nearly $1 million on damages from the city, or is the ruling excessive?