By Brett Nachtigall
EDGEMONT – It was recently concluded by a Fall River Circuit Court Judge that the City of Edgemont is liable to pay their former Building Inspector / Code Enforcer / City Engineer Michael Koopman more than $13,600 in benefits that he did not receive while employed by the city from May 2014 – May 2015. In addition, the court also ruled that Koopman could recoup his attorney’s fees from during the proceedings, as well as 10 percent interest annually on all amounts due until paid.
In a 17-page Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law document provided by Koopman’s attorney Pat Ginsbach, the Honorable Judge Jane Wipf Pfeifle ruled in favor of Koopman’s claim that he was indeed characterized as a city employee, instead of an independent contractor, and thus due certain compensatory benefits like other city employees.
The aforementioned dollar amount awarded included compensation for unpaid health insurance, vacation time, holiday pay and water bill forgiveness which is also a benefit for all city employees who live within the city limits.
Based on the court documents, Koopman, a licensed engineer, began working for the city in 2012, after having previously been employed by the State of Wyoming with the Abandoned Mine Lands Program. For his services, he was paid $1,000 per month by the City of Edgemont, due to Koopman’s disability retirement agreement with the State of Wyoming, which included a provision concerning income limitations tied to Medicare and Social Security issues.
At the time Koopman began working for the city, Jim Turner was Edgemont Mayor. In May of 2013, Carl Shaw took over as Mayor of the City of Edgemont and Karen Cain replaced Tami Habeck as the City Finance Officer.
The court document stated that, it appeared that Koopman and the City of Edgemont believed they had reached an independent contractor agreement, based on all of the evidence presented by both sides.
But, the City changed its position in December 2012 and began treating Koopman as an employee by withholding taxes, giving him a W-4, providing him with W-2s, giving him a personnel manual, characterizing his pay as salary and directing his work.
“No evidence was presented that Koopman was customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business suggesting he was an independent contractor,” the Findings of Fact document stated. “Koopman did not perform the duties that he performed for Edgemont for any other entity.”
Koopman’s employment with the city ended in May 2015, at which time, the court recognized that Koopman made the city aware that he was seeking reimbursement for his unpaid benefits and “regularly raised his concerns to the City.”
“Koopman attempted to mitigate his damages by sending letters to the City seeking an explanation of what his relationship was with the City, since he was no longer an appointed official, did he continue to be a City employee, or was he an independent contractor, and these issues were not addressed by the City,” the court document stated.
Based on the published Findings of Fact, the court then ruled that, “The City did not follow its own policies nor seek legal counsel.”
“Those who were charged with being responsible for running the city: mayor, city finance officer, city council sent mixed messages to Koopman and failed to follow their own agreement, ordinances and policies.”
Despite the court determining that Koopman was treated as a city employee from the 2012 until his termination in May 2015, the court ruled that from Dec. 2012 until May 2014, he did not precisely fit in the employee classifications contained in their policies because he worked at least 20 hours every other week and less than 40 hours per week.
But from May 6, 2014, through May 5, 2015, Koopman was an appointed official and in a position that is classified within the employee policy, the Conclusions of Law document stated, and thus entitled to damages during only that time period.