Lawyer sues NC over millions in promised pay for troopers - FOX Carolina 21

Lawyer sues NC over millions in promised pay raises for troopers

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Western NC attorney David Wijewickrama. (March 17, 2014/FOX Carolina) Western NC attorney David Wijewickrama. (March 17, 2014/FOX Carolina)
A look at the complaint filed in court Monday. (March 17, 2014/FOX Carolina) A look at the complaint filed in court Monday. (March 17, 2014/FOX Carolina)
ASHEVILLE, NC (FOX Carolina) -

North Carolina now has 30 days to respond to a lawsuit.

Monday morning, a western North Carolina lawyer filed a complaint on behalf of dozens of state Highway Patrol troopers claiming that the Departments of Treasury and Public Safety failed to pay them millions that were promised.

The nearly 50 troopers listed on the complaint span across the state and their lawyer, David Wijewickrama of Waynesville, and his team from the Asheville-based law firm, Cloninger, Barbour, Searson and Jones, said they're expecting hundreds more to join their potential class action suit.

Wijewickrama said he's had troopers show up at his doorstep asking for help since last summer. He said he's tried to open a dialogue with the State Department of Public Safety before filing suit, to no avail.

When troopers signed up to put their lives on the line, Wijewickrama said they expect to be compensated as promised. He said the fact that so many haven't been given incremental raises since 2005, as promised, is a "gross failure of leadership."

Wijewickrama filed the complaint at 8 a.m. Monday  in Cherokee County. He said he wanted lawmakers in Raleigh to remember that North Carolina stretches west, and that there are many people suffering in that area, too.

The troopers whose names appear in the complaint span the state. Wijewickrama said 520 troopers have been affected, though, and he hopes they will join his suit.

He explained that many troopers have expressed peer pressure and fear of retaliation at work.

"Typically when [troopers] have been asked and spoken about these pay raises, people say, 'oh they're working on them.' When [troopers] really start to grumble about them, they're told to be quiet. They're told, ‘just be thankful you have a job,'" Wijewickrama said.

According to Highway Patrol recruitment literature, troopers are hired with a $34,000 salary. It shows that troopers should expect to reach $56,330 plus in six or seven years on the force.

"The problem is, these troopers have gone and gotten mortgages and incurred bills, assuming that they're going to get these raises, [then they have] not been given the raises and then find themselves in financial distress," said Wijewickrama.

As defendants, the North Carolina State Treasurer's Office released this statement:

"The State Treasurer has no independent authority to determine the pay of any State employees, other than those employed by the Department of State Treasurer. Our legal counsel will need to review the complaint and determine a proper response, so we cannot comment further at this time."

The Department of Public Safety did not comment on the lawsuit, either, but department secretary, Frank L. Perry released this statement:

"It is inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.

"It is, however, important to know that I am keenly aware of the state's budget situation and the inability to provide raises to all state employees, which includes our public safety officers and, more specifically, our state troopers. That is why I have been working closely with the governor, the Office of State Human Resources and the General Assembly to ensure that eligible troopers get raises from the Salary Adjustment Fund. As a result, those eligible troopers received a four percent raise from that fund in their March paychecks, retroactive to Jan. 1."

Wijewickrama claims there has been money in the budget, but he claims it was spent elsewhere.

He estimates the state owes troopers at least $7 million to $10 million, and that the state government also owes millions to magistrate judges and court clerks across the state.

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