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CA Dept. K9 Handler Suing City Over Lack of Compensation

CA Dept. K9 Handler Suing City Over Lack of Compensation

Officer Rebecca Rosenblatt has a new partner in Reese, the new K-9 officer of the Millbrae Police Department, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007. The Millbrae Community Foundation helped facilitate the buying the German Shepard with money from an anonymous gift. [

San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix

April 26, 2011

MILBRAE, CA – The Millbrae Police Department’s only canine handler is suing the city in federal court on allegations she hasn’t been paid for the time she spends taking care of the dog while off duty.

Officer Rebecca Rosenblatt alleges that federal labor law obliges Millbrae to compensate her for the time — at least 3 ½ hours per week — but failed to do so. The amount of pay owed for the “care and maintenance” of police dog Reese could reach $80,000, her attorney, Dale Nowicki, said. The officer has asked for a jury trial.

The city has received the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, but city officials declined to comment.

Reese, a German shepherd, lives with Rosenblatt, and his bathing and feeding are her responsibility whether or not the officer is on the clock. According to the complaint, the Fair Labor Standards Act says a handler must be paid overtime for the dog’s maintenance.

Nowicki said the rules for compensation can be applied retroactively only two years into the past, or three years when there are aggravating circumstances. Rosenblatt has been with the department since 2005 and has been handling Reese since 2007, according to Millbrae’s website.

The general counsel for an international police dog training organization said Millbrae won’t win if it fights the suit.

“The city’s going to lose,” said Mark Rispoli, attorney for the 2,000-member California Narcotic Canine Association, which also has members outside of the United States. “Federal law mandates it. This is well-settled.”

He said it’s not uncommon for handlers, like teachers, to spend money out of their own pocket for dog-related expenses, and they don’t make a fuss about being reimbursed. He said those officers are aware that a pricey legal fight with the agency that employs them, along with a five- or six-figure settlement, could spell the end for that agency’s canine program.

“You can win the battle and lose the war,” Rispoli said.

Nowicki said his firm, as part of a separate case, is representing a handler from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office on the same issue, but officers who handle five other dogs there have declined to take part for fear of what may happen.

“Handler compensation issues cause the demise of canine units,” he added.

Rosenblatt said she tried to talk to her supervisors, but they brushed her off on the topic. She claims she also attempted to strike a bargain in order to receive some kind of compensation. But again, those efforts were unsuccessful.

The situation is very different at the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which has six canine handlers. Deputies who have a canine partner receive a 5.7 percent pay raise as well as $90 a month for care and feeding of the animal, Sheriff’s Lt. Ray Lunny said. The handlers are expected to keep their dogs with them at all times.

Rosenblatt’s attorney said the only reason his client has filed a lawsuit is the 24-hour nature of the assignment.

“If the dog wasn’t at home, this wouldn’t apply,” he said.

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