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County pays out thousands to settle two-year old law suit

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By Susan Sharp

A lawsuit filed by a one time county employee has been settled ending with an award for him of over $85,000.

In April 2008 Richard Cox, an ambulance service employee, lodged a suit against the county. In the federal court, filing Cox claimed he had been deprived of compensation during his tenure with the ambulance service.

Cox alleged that he had worked 2,700 hours of overtime in a three-year time span and hadn’t been paid for any of it, the lawsuit said.

Kathy Parrott, attorney for the county and the commission, said Cox had been stationed at the Caryville dispatch center with the LaFollette crew serving as his back up, allowing him to sleep and have meal breaks during his 24-hour shifts. In the suit, Cox said his supervisor at the time, John Bond, instructed him to write on his time cards he was working a 16-hour shift. The filing said Cox followed those instructions, “but his time sheets show the actual hours he was on duty whether it was from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to 7 a.m.”

By the time Cox began seeking compensation Bond was no longer with the ambulance service. Furthermore, there were no records found from Bond’s administration that would offer insight into Cox’s allegations, according to Parrott. She further said that when evidence was sought in this case that not even a policy manual could be found from Bond’s time as ambulance director.

“It is distributing and disappointing that that was how taxpayers were being served,” she said.

Parrott said the lack of documentation coupled with the procedure for assessing attorney’s fees in federal court prompted her to encourage the county to settle the lawsuit as the February trial date drew close. In federal court, a small damages award can have sizeable attorney’s fees attached to it, according to Parrott.

In the initial discussions with Cox and his attorney, Jennifer Morton, Parrott said the first suggestions for a settlement were not entertained because of a number she felt was excessive.

“Anything over $100,000 I was adamantly against,” Parrott said.

In time, the parties were able to find a common ground.

Cox was awarded $52,800 while Morton was paid $35,180 for her efforts in the case, according to Parrott.

This money was paid last month from the ambulance service budget. Given the nature of the case, a wage an hour lawsuit, any insurance policy carried by the county would not be responsible for payment, Parrott said.

“There was no liability on the county’s part,” Parrott said. “This was part of closing out the John Bond administration.”

Cox left his employment with the county while the case was pending, according to Parrott.