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County settles $3.45 million lawsuit with sheriff deputies

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Missoula County settled a $3.45 million wages claim with Missoula County Sheriff Deputies Thursday morning. 

Missoula County and a number of Missoula County Sheriff deputies settled a $3.45 million wage claim Thursday morning for back pay owed to the deputies.

The case, Baker et. al. v. Missoula County, involved three years of unpaid wages based on the county’s failure to calculate the sheriff's parity pay and certification pay in the deputies’ wages.

The claim will be funded through a judgment levy.

County Commissioners Josh Slotnick and Dave Strohmaier approved the settlement with Board Chair Juanita Vero absent during an administrative meeting Thursday.

Vero participated in the two-day mediation process that took place with the sheriff deputies in May.

Erica Grinde, Missoula County director of risk management and benefits, said the discrepancy in the deputies’ wages “stemmed from some unclear state statutes.”

She said state legislation passed in 2021 required parity and certification pay to be included in deputies’ wages, but Missoula County failed to include those wages in the deputies’ base pay.

“The claim alleged that because those factors weren’t included it decreased the deputies’ earnings,” explained Grinde.

Deputies filed the claim in January.

The settlement, Grinde said, resolves all claims related to the lawsuit. Going forward, the county plans to include parity and certification pay in deputies’ wages, said Grinde.

“This is a practice that Missoula County will be following into the future,” she said.

Settling the claim saved the county time and other resources that would’ve been expended on continued litigation, Grinde added.

However, because state law ties deputies’ wages to the sheriff’s pay, the settlement raised concerns among the commissioners that deputies would be compensated for certifications the sheriff earns but the deputies don’t.

“I get legally that’s right,” said Slotnick. “Morally, feels not right.”

Grinde said the Missoula County Compensation Board “will have to reevaluate components of the sheriff’s salary.”

“The parties both agree that the settlement reflects the importance of the continuing strong relationship between the sheriff’s deputies and the county and, in particular, the relationship between the sheriff and his deputies,” said Grinde. “…This settlement reflects the value Missoula County places on the work of the Sheriff’s Office and the deputies and the critical role those deputies play in ensuring a safe and strong community.”

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