Typing “OK” in a text does not amount to a contract for promotion within the Brunswick Police Department, attorney Patty Paul argued Monday in Glynn County Superior Court.
Attorney Adrienne Browning disagreed. She believes a jury should decide whether City Manager Jim Drumm’s text messages to Police Chief Kevin Jones were sufficient authorization to promote six officers and compensate their salaries accordingly.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett will decide at a later date whether Browning’s lawsuit on behalf of the officers will proceed to a jury trial, or whether he will issue a summary judgment in the case.
Jones promoted six police officers to corporal during a public ceremony in November 2015, a step up that included a raise to the corporal’s pay rate of $18.69 per hour. Afterward, however, Drumm said he never gave Jones authority for the promotions. The promotions and accompanying raises were rescinded before ever being reflected on the officers’ paychecks.
The chief and the city manager met twice in December 2015 but could not reach an agreement. Browning sued the city and Drumm on behalf of the six officers in April 2016.
Drumm concedes that he spoke in favorable terms about the promotions with Jones, both verbally and in text messages. But Drumm said he never gave official authorization for Jones to proceed. “OK in a text is not how you approve promotions,” Drumm said at the time.
The corporal promotions were to accompany transfers from road patrol to the detective division. Drumm agreed that the officers should be compensated financially for the extra work required as detectives. But Drumm said there was never a written contract, without which there could be no promotions or pay raises. Jones maintains he had Drumm’s authority to proceed.
Each officer passed the Brunswick Police Department corporal’s test prior to the promotion ceremony. Drumm said the raises would have amounted to a total of more than $30,000, with the pay increase for each officer ranging from 10 percent to 23 percent.
Attorney Paul, representing the city of Brunswick, said Drumm acted within his authority in denying the promotions. Without a written contract, the promotions are not valid, she argued.
“The very limited issue in the case is whether the plaintiff can show a written contract,” Paul said. “Is there a contract or not? The city maintains there is no written contract, with all of the terms written out.”
Browning argued that the text messages amount to Drumm’s authorization for Jones to proceed with the promotions. She said Jones would not have gone through with the very public promotions if he was not confident that he had Drumm’s permission to proceed. She added that there is precedent in which messages such as texts are sufficient to bind a contract.
“It’s well-settled that electronic communications can amount to a written contract,” Browning said. “This is clearly an issue for a jury to decide.”
Browning represents officers Paul George, Erik Hartshorn, Carla Futch, Alan Wainwright, Terrence Tanner and Stephan Lowrey. Lowrey now works for the Glynn County Police Department; Tanner has transferred to the Glynn County Schools Police Department.