VERNON -- Town officials have won one of two court battles with Vernon's former police chief.
The state Supreme Court has upheld a previous ruling that Kevin Turnley was working as a manager and therefore is not entitled to compensation for hundreds of hours of overtime.
That puts punctuation on a suit that Turnley filed in October 2009, not long before he was fired by the Vernon Selectboard.
"The Supreme Court agreed with the Town of Vernon's position that the former chief truly was an exempt, executive employee not entitled to receive overtime pay under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act," said Burlington-based attorney John Leddy, who represented the board.
"The town of Vernon is pleased with the court's decision," he added.
Sharon Annis, Turnley's Brattleboro-based attorney, said she was "disappointed" with a ruling that she believes could be precedent-setting.
"I think it's going to be an important law for the state of Vermont," Annis said.
Still unresolved is a separate wrongful-termination suit filed by Turnley, who was fired after being accused of "conduct unbecoming an officer" due to false statements he made at a public meeting.
Turnley had said at an October 2009 forum that he had no prior knowledge of a sex offender relocating to Vernon. But an earlier e-mail from the state's sex-offender registry office contradicted that.
A judge in Windham County Superior Court in March ruled
But the Supreme Court's decision in the overtime case -- a ruling that was filed Friday -- brings that matter to a close. Court documents show that Turnley alleged he was owed "for as many as 1,335 overtime hours."
Turnley, who was Vernon's chief from February 2006 to October 2009, "asserted that the Selectboard interfered with his management of the police department and prevented him from hiring the additional personnel needed to meet operational demands," court papers say.
"As a result, plaintiff claimed, the department was short-staffed, and he was at times forced to work more than 90 hours per week," according to court documents.
Turnley argued that "he was not an executive because his primary duty was not managerial and that he actually was a ‘first responder'" who should have been eligible for overtime.
But the Superior Court disagreed and granted the town's motion for a summary judgment. And the Supreme Court is reinforcing that ruling, saying that "the town satisfied its burden of showing that plaintiff's primary duty was management."
Turnley's own deposition testimony "confirmed rather than disputed that he carried out these duties" described as managerial in the federal regulation.
Turnley's argument that he was not an executive but a "first responder" also was rejected by the court.
The first-responder rule "does not turn a chief of police, whose primary duty was management, into a non-manager simply because he functioned as a ‘working chief' who, in some weeks, was forced to perform patrol work for long hours," the ruling says.
The court further wrote that, "even if, to use plaintiff's characterization, the Selectboard did ‘micromanage' the department and meddle in areas more wisely left to the chief's discretion, it does not follow that he was under ‘direct supervision'" by the board and therefore not a manager.
"The evidence supports that plaintiff was the person in charge," the ruling says.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.