FORSYTH COUNTY — A federal lawsuit filed by 11 former Forsyth County Sheriff’s employees who were fired in 2013 has been dismissed, effectively ending their case against the county and sheriff.
The U.S. District Court dismissed “all claims against all defendants” with prejudice, meaning the 11 plaintiffs cannot ever file another lawsuit based on the same grounds. The stipulation was filed Feb. 10.
“It’s nice that it’s gone, but I wasn’t really worried about it in the first place,” said Forsyth County Sheriff Duane K. Piper, who was one of the defendants.
The case dated back to shortly after Piper took office, when Sheriff’s Lt. Lisa Frady Selke, four captains, two sergeants and four lieutenants were laid off as part of a “restructuring” of middle management positions.
According to court documents, the employees maintained their termination were political retaliation and age discrimination by the then new sheriff.
Piper said that wasn’t the case and that “it would have been irresponsible to [keep the positions] going forward.”
Construction on the county’s new jail and adjoining courthouse began in July 2013 — the former is projected to be ready in April while the latter officially opens Monday — and Piper said he knew the new buildings would require additional positions.
Since the beginning of this process he has maintained that cutting those 11 positions saved the county $2.4 million, even after adding jail staff, because they’re lower-paid jobs.
“The budget would have been completely out of control,” Piper said. “It was the product of a well-thought out, well-planned and perfectly implemented business plan moving forward.”
The former deputies pursued legal channels, beginning with appeals directly to Piper and the county’s personnel services director, Patricia Carson.
After Carson denied their request to appeal to the local civil service board in March 2013, on the grounds that layoffs are not appealable under the civil service handbook and policies, they filed suit. The case eventually reached the Georgia Supreme Court.
The high court dismissed the matter in June on the grounds that they had failed to follow the correct procedure in filing the appeal.
“Knowing someone lost their job is always a tough decision,” Piper said, “but it was the right decision.”
Lance LoRusso, attorney for the plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment last week. It was unclear whether the plaintiffs would pursue any further action.
“Our position from the beginning is that [the plaintiffs] didn’t have a claim,” said Timothy Buckley III, who represented Piper, Carson and the county with attorney Taylor Hensel.
“The [federal] magistrate judge crafts recommendations on motions to dismiss [a case] and presents them to a federal judge, who can adopt, revise or reject it. We were in that phase.”
He said there was an “overture of settlement,” which Piper and the other defendants refused.
“It is in my opinion that [the plaintiffs] evaluated the viability of the case and dismissed it,” Buckley said.
That attempt to settle was a rehashing of a previous offer from the sheriff’s office of severance to the 11 deputies, which they refused at the time of their terminations in favor of moving forward with a lawsuit.
When they brought the offer back up after the dismissal, the county “rejected it with our blessing,” Buckley said.
“Sheriff Piper was completely vindicated in the sense of his stated objective,” he said. “There was no indication that any rights were violated.”