When Anthony Colannino, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, looked at his pay stub for the last two weeks of June, he assumed there must have been a mistake: He had received only $271.98, more than $3,000 less than the county usually pays him.
No mistake, Colannino was told when he queried the amount. He had been docked 11 days' pay because he had exceeded the amount of time his office would allow him to work in the California State Military Reserve.
State law requires public agencies to pay employees for the first 30 days they are on active military duty.
In a class-action lawsuit filed May 4, Colannino contends that the county and its district attorney, Steve Cooley, are not giving reservists like himself all the compensation to which they are entitled because of the way they calculate military leave. He wants the county to restore any unfairly withheld pay, overtime and vacation time to all current and former employees who serve in the reserves or in the California National Guard.
As of Jan. 31, there were 604 such county employees, including 102 on active duty, according to Acting Director of Personnel Lisa Garrett. But Colannino's lawyer, Jay Coggan, says that counting former employees, the total number affected could reach into the thousands.
Unlike the National Guard and reserves, the state reserve in which Colannino serves as a captain and judge advocate is primarily a volunteer force, said Col. Robert Spano, the State Military Department comptroller. Members only get paid when the governor declares an emergency.
In most cases, when the county stops paying Colannino's regular salary, there is nothing to fill the gap, his lawyer said. Coggan, who is also in the state reserve, said the county's practices could have a "chilling effect" on other public employees who might consider volunteering their services at a time of war.
Acting Assistant County Counsel Manuel Valenzuela said his office was reviewing the case and could not immediately comment. However, in a written response opposing Colannino's earlier request for a Civil Service Commission hearing, Cooley said his office was following county guidelines and had restored much of the overtime and vacation time Colannino initially agreed to give up in order to be paid his usual salary. In the lawsuit, Colannino disputes the county's right to count weekend days and public holidays -- when he would not ordinarily be working -- against his 30 days of paid military leave. He also argues that he is entitled to additional military leave when the governor declares an emergency.
Colannino contends that his supervisors also unfairly stipulated that he could take off only eight hours a day for each day of military leave. Because he normally would have been required to work nine hours on some of those days, Colannino says, he was forced to make up the difference to his employer by giving up earned overtime and vacation time.
"He's being punished for getting out of bed in the morning, putting on a uniform and going to an emergency," Coggan said. "He's being punished for actually going out and helping process soldiers on the way to a war zone."
Although arrangements vary among government agencies, the county is not alone in treating the entire period that an employee is activated as military leave. The Los Angeles Police Department pays employees' salaries for a maximum 174 hours of military duty a year, said Officer Richard Garibay, the department's military liaison officer. The policy is based on an eight-hour day and five-day workweek.
Because so many California National Guard JAG attorneys have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, Coggan said, responsibility for providing legal counsel to the troops and their families is increasingly falling to attorneys in the state reserve like Colannino and himself.
Colannino, 50, provides legal counsel to troops who are about to deploy, writing their wills and powers of attorney. He was called up twice last year to assist the command posts when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger mobilized the California National Guard to help fight wildfires. In all, he spent 41 days -- including 10 weekend days and one public holiday -- in uniform in the 12 months ending last June.
"I just want to help any way I can," said Colannino, who enlisted two years ago. "We are in a protracted war. I can't go out there and fight the battle from the front lines anymore, but I can at least assist from here."