Dismissal of Georgia Judge’s Petition for Mandamus to Collect Back Pay Affirmed on Appeal

Everyone wants to be paid fairly, from the most modestly paid fast food worker to the most highly compensated executive. Even judges want to be paid every penny that they are due. In addition to state and federal laws regarding wage and hour issues, there may be other remedies available to a worker who believes that he or she has not been paid fairly. An Atlanta employment law attorney can explain the process of seeking back pay or other compensation that you may be due if  you suspect that your employer has acted illegally with regards to payment of your salary or wages.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a state court county judge who filed a petition seeking a writ of mandamus against the defendants, a county and several of its commissioners. According to the plaintiff, she was owed back pay and other relief due to the defendants’ violation of Georgia Constitution of 1983, Article VI, § VII, Part V. The constitutional provision upon which the plaintiff relied states, in essence, that an incumbent judge’s salary, allowance, or supplement is not to be decreased during his or her term of office; the plaintiff averred that the county had improperly calculated her salary, resulting in an illegal reduction in her overall compensation each year from 2007 to 2017.

The trial court ruled in the defendants’ favor, holding that the plaintiff’s mandamus action was barred by gross laches but, even if it was not, mandamus was not an appropriate vehicle for the relief sought by the plaintiff and, even if mandamus was proper, there was no merit to the plaintiff’s claims.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding that many of the plaintiff’s claims for back pay were time-barred and that, although mandamus was an appropriate vehicle for any timely-filed claims for back pay, the trial court had properly denied the plaintiff’s claims. The supreme court began by declaring that the lower tribunal had erred in reaching the broad conclusion that, because the plaintiff’s claims for back-pay dated as far back as 2007, all of her back pay claims were barred by gross laches. According to the court, the plaintiff’s claims for back pay were subject to the two-year limitations period set forth in OCGA § 9-3-22. Thus, any back-pay claim that accrued more than two years before the plaintiff filed her mandamus action in 2017 were untimely.

With regard to the plaintiff’s timely-filed claims, the court noted that, generally one public official could pursue recovery of compensation that another public official was required to pay him or her via mandamus. Thus, the trial court had been wrong when it ruled that mandamus was not an appropriate vehicle through which the plaintiff could seek back pay. However, the court went on to hold that, during the relevant time periods, no laws had been violated with regard to the plaintiff’s compensation – in fact, her salary actually increased from 2015 to 2016. As to 2017, the court noted that the plaintiff’s overall compensation did decrease that year but found no violation of the constitutional provision at issue insomuch as the plaintiff’s term of office ended at the end of 2016 and she began a new term on January 1, 2017.

Talk to an Atlanta Attorney About an Employment Law Case

If you believe that you have been treated unfairly with regard to your salary or hourly wages, please contact experienced Atlanta employment law attorney John Mays at Parks, Chesin & Walbert for an appointment by calling 404-873-8048. As this case demonstrates, there are time limits to such claims, so it is important to take timely legal action.

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