Kentucky Commercial Vehicle Enforcement officers file wage-discrimination suit

FRANKFORT — More than 100 officers with Commercial Vehicle Enforcement claim in a wage-discrimination lawsuit that they perform the same duties as Kentucky State Police troopers but receive less pay.

Vehicle Enforcement officers and cadets are "compensated at a substantially lower rate of pay than Kentucky State Police troopers and cadets," the complaint says.

The suit, filed Monday in Franklin Circuit Court, names Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer and the Kentucky State Police as defendants. The addresses for the 107 plaintiffs range from Barlow in Western Kentucky to Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky, and points in between.

Explaining his denial of a grievance in a letter attached as an exhibit to the suit, Brewer said he "cannot support" the argument that the job classification of a vehicle enforcement officer is the same or substantially similar to that of a trooper. Brewer also outlines measures he has taken to increase the pay for vehicle enforcement officers.

Commercial Vehicle Enforcement officers, whose uniforms and cars are light brown, were once employees of the state Transportation Cabinet. They were once limited to giving tickets to commercial trucks, but since a 1994 court ruling they could legally cite all motorists for offenses such as drunken driving and speeding.

In 2008, Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order in which Vehicle Enforcement became a division of the Kentucky State Police, whose uniforms and cars are gray.

In doing so, "we're able to eliminate a layer of bureaucracy, and allow (Vehicle Enforcement) to focus on vehicle and driver safety, and enforce compliance of vehicles operating in commerce," Beshear said in a July 2008 press release.

The reorganization was expected to save $750,000 to $1 million annually through greater efficiency, by eliminating top-level positions, reducing fuel costs, eliminating duplicative operations and programs, and centralizing offices and facilities.

The suit says unequal pay violates the state constitution and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act regarding equal protection under the law.

The complaint appeals the denial of a grievance by Brewer, seeks a trial by jury, and asks for an award of compensatory damages in an amount to be proven at trial. It also seeks injunctive relief as it relates to rights, privileges and benefits, and seeks punitive damages for violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

In a Dec. 6 letter responding to the grievance, Brewer wrote that the qualifications, training requirements and overall job duties are different among all employees of state police, whether they are arson investigators, hazardous devices investigators or sworn officers.

"Kentucky State Troopers undergo a very competitive, rigorous selection process and training program that by virtue of completing gives them a different set of knowledge, skills and abilities," Brewer wrote.

Although vehicle enforcement officers "are sometimes used for duties traditionally assigned to Troopers, these instances are infrequent and mostly in a support capacity," Brewer wrote.

In addition, Brewer wrote, the vehicle enforcement mission and objectives "are specifically focused on enforcing commercial vehicle laws and regulations. Since the mission, qualifications, training requirements and overall job duties are different, I cannot support the argument that the job classification of a CVE Officer is the same or substantially similar to that of a Trooper."

Brewer wrote that he has recognized that vehicle enforcement officers' pay "should be increased on their own merit."

"With this in mind, I have taken a number of steps to increase the benefits" for vehicle enforcement officers, Brewer wrote.

That included implementing a new rank of Commercial Vehicle Officer II and promoting those eligible, providing a per diem allowance for all sworn vehicle enforcement officers, and providing a clothing allowance for those officers in ranks and assignments that are eligible.

Brewer said he has also "allowed plentiful overtime opportunities" for vehicle enforcement officers "that are not permitted at the same volume for Troopers." Brewer said those efforts "have substantially improved the overall pay and benefits" for vehicle enforcement officers.

The state police have about three weeks to file a response to the suit.