CHICAGO (CN) – A canine officer can pursue claims that his annual $2,000 stipend did not account for “overtime” hours he spent caring for his service dog, a federal judge ruled.
Bob Diorio is a police officer in the K-9 unit for the village of Tinley Park, a suburb of Chicago. His job duties include the care, feeding, boarding, grooming, transport and training of Tinley Park’s service animal, Thor.
Tinley Park gives officers like Diorio a $2,000 annual stipend meant to “constitute full compensation at the appropriate rate for all hours of work on off-duty time for the maintenance, care, training and transport of the dog,” according to its collective bargaining agreement.
But Diorio claimed that that the stipend does not amount to a reasonable hourly wage in a September 2011 federal complaint. He says caring for Thor often requires more than 40 hours a week, on top of his regular work schedule.
U.S. District Judge John Tharp Jr. refused to dismiss Diorio’s case Friday, finding that “whether the CBA agreement is reasonable in light of ‘all the pertinent facts’ is a quintessential question of fact that cannot be decided in the village’s favor at the stage of the litigation.”
“Drawing all reasonable inferences in Diorio’s favor, it is clear that Diorio claims that the compensation he receives for caring for the service animal ($2,000) amounts to less than $8.25 per each hour he spends working outside of his regular working hours,” Tharp wrote in a footnote to the seven-page decision. “That claim is plausible. If Diorio cares for the animal for at least 243 hours outside of his regular working hours (i.e., approximately 40 minutes per day), he earns less than $8.25 per hour for that work. Further, whether Diorio is paid the minimum wage for caring for his service animal is not the issue; rather, the issue is whether the wage he is paid is reasonable.” (Emphasis in original.)
Tharp noted that the reasonableness of Diorio’s current compensation also depends on factors such as “whether the amount of additional compensation was freely bargained for or ‘imposed’ on the officer, whether the employer paid for the dog’s food and medical care, whether the employer provided a take-home police vehicle for transporting the dog, whether the employer built a kennel for the dog, and an examination of the costs and benefits of having a highly trained police dog (and family pet) in the officer’s home.” (Parentheses in original.)
“The reasonableness of an agreement must be determined based on ‘all of the facts and circumstances of the parties’ relationship,’ not just whether the parties included a recitation as to the reasonableness of the compensation in the agreement,” he added.