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Katz awards $112K in fees to prevailing lawyer in overtime pay suit against ESL

Lawsuits

By Record News | Mar 19, 2019


Ripplinger and Baricevic

BELLEVILLE – East St. Louis must pay George Ripplinger $112,506.77 as winner of an overtime pay suit for former assistant fire chief William Clossen, Associate Judge Julie Katz ruled on March 5. 

Katz had awarded Clossen $336,520.32 last year, after his harrowing testimony at a bench trial showed he acted more as firefighter than manager. 

He sued the city in 2015, after retiring as an assistant chief. 

Ripplinger wrote for him that under terms of his employment, he was to work 24 hours and take 72 hours off. 

According to Clossen’s suit, beginning Feb. 1, 2010, the city required assistant chiefs to work 32 hours and take 64 hours off. 

Clossen claimed the city refused to pay for the additional hours of work or the loss of time off, causing a loss to him in the amount of $191,457.52. 

He named then mayor Alvin Parks and city manager Deletra Hudson as individual defendants. 

The city responded that a manager on salary doesn’t qualify for overtime.  

At bench trial last July, Ripplinger said chief Jason Blackmon decided to go from three assistant chiefs to two, and their hours went from 24 on and 72 off to 32 on and 64 off. 

“A salaried employee would just have to bite the bullet and do that,” Katz said, according to trial transcript. 

Ripplinger agreed and said that a salaried employee would have to do that or quit. 

He moved to bar all defense witnesses for failure to answer interrogatories. 

City counsel C.J. Baricevic said, “I’m not excusing the file that we have.” 

His firm replaced Clayborne, Sabo, and Wagner as city counsel in 2017. 

“We don’t know what was disclosed and what wasn’t,” Baricevic said. “I’ve attempted to resolve that and we couldn’t.” 

Katz told him, “I can’t penalize the plaintiff because of what’s going on with the representation of the defendant.” 

She said she would bar anyone Ripplinger hadn’t deposed. 

Clossen took the stand and estimated that administrative tasks took four to five hours in a shift. 

“There might be days that I didn’t spend any time in the office, that we were out on fires all day, all night,” he said. 

Ripplinger asked if he was first on the scene, and he said many times. 

“We were so shorthanded - we had closed a firehouse – that we was actually required to go to the closed firehouse, pick up the aerial apparatus,” Clossen said. 

“I helped load hose or I’d handle hose lines or, you know, go in. There was a few times I had to go in and help bring out bodies.” 

He said he jump-started apparatus and changed tires. He said he slept in the closed firehouse, “because they would break in and steal stuff out of it and everything else.” 

He read records showing 259 structure fires in 2010, 259 in 2011, and 244 in 2012. 

“We were on some six, eight, ten hours depending on the size of the building, and some of them even went into the next shift,” Clossen said. 

Ripplinger asked if he participated in every extraction in his shift, and he said yes, which could take between one to three hours. 

Clossen read records showing the department performed 39 extrications in 2011, 32 in 2012, and 25 in 2013.

He also records showing 120 vehicle fires in 2010, 113 in 2011, 100 in 2012, and 90 in 2013. He said he went to 90 percent of them, and they took about an hour. 

He read records showing 325 other fires in 2010, 325 in 2011, 495 in 2012, and 302 in 2013. 

He also said there might be daily weed fires in summer. 

“Some of them we were out there five and six hours,” he said. 

Ripplinger asked about explosions and ruptures. 

Clossen said, “We had a facility down there that exploded. We had ruptures down there at the old hospital. We had spills.” 

Ripplinger asked if that included toxic substances, and he said yes. 

Clossen read records showing 30 rescues in 2010, 40 in 2011, 36 in 2012, and 33 in 2013. 

He said he assisted on them all the time because he was trained in rescue. 

He read records showing 110 hazardous conditions in 2010, 92 in 2011, 95 in 2012, and 52 in 2013.

Ripplinger asked what that meant and he said gas leaks, propane leaks, a truck with hazardous materials that overturned, and train derailments. 

Katz ruled in Clossen’s favor in November, finding he spent less than 50 percent of his time doing administrative or executive work. 

She calculated damages of 44 hours every pay period at the regular rate of $36.96 an hour, plus overtime at $55.44 an hour for 12 hours per pay period. She set the total at $135,199.68. 

Clossen was awarded interest per statute at two percent a month, totaling $160,073.28, and $41,247.36 as liquidated damages. 

But, Katz found Clossen failed to prove that Parks, Hudson, or current mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks knowingly permitted the city to violate state wage law. 

In her fee order, Katz wrote that East St. Louis stipulated that a third was a reasonable fee for Ripplinger.

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