The case is the City of Houston v. Roger Bates.
At issue is whether the city uses the correct calculations for overtime and termination pay for retiring Houston firefighters. Bates and two other firefighters sued the city over the issue and now the case has arrived at the State’s high court.
Martin Siegel is a Houston-based appellate lawyer. He says the city has already lost twice.
“So they’ve lost before the trial judge and they’ve lost in front of a three-judge panel at the local court of appeals here in Houston. But now they’re before nine justices on the Texas Supreme Court. And it should be said that at this stage in the case, their odds are actually pretty good. The odds, just looking at the overall statistics, suggest that if a litigator, a party has made it this far along in their case, in the Texas Supreme Court they’re likely to win.”
That’s because cases like this one hinge on hair-thin interpretations of the law.
Although two lower courts ruled against the city, the fact that the Texas Supreme Court took the case indicates it may be favorable to a different interpretation.
“It’s a complex argument involving the interplay between state statutes and the local ordinances that control how these amounts that are paid to firefighters are calculated. So it’s an argument about how you ought to construe these laws, it’s very technical, but on the outcome rides a lot of money for the city.”
The three firefighters in this suit are only seeking about $3,000 each in termination pay.
But city attorneys say a loss in this case could cost millions if the city is required to recalculate pay for hundreds or thousands of retired firefighters