A Superior Court judge ruled Monday that he cannot order a civil service board hearing for 11 Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office employees who were dismissed earlier this year.
Visiting Judge Grant Brantley said the former deputies had “other remedies available” to appeal their layoffs.
The supervisory positions were cut in late February as part of the agency restructuring headed by Sheriff Duane K. Piper, who took office in January.
Piper has said the changes will increase efficiency and lower the budget.
The 11 claim their terminations were politically motivated, incorrectly processed and discriminatory based on age.
Each requested an appeal before the civil service board in March, but the county’s personnel services director, Pat Carson, pointed to civil service policy that "denies the right of appeal when separation is due to a layoff.”
In April, the former deputies filed a writ of mandamus in Forsyth County Superior Court, asking the judge to order the local civil service board to hear their case.
Brantley sided with Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard following the Monday hearing on the county’s motion to dismiss the case.
Citing case law, Jarrard argued that the writ the deputies requested is not available if another course of remedial action can be taken.
Lance LoRusso, who represents the 11 deputies, said after the decision that he and his clients will review the judge’s final order and consider filing an appeal or evaluating the next steps.
“Obviously, the court was pretty adamant that we had another avenue, and so was the county attorney,” LoRusso said.
He had argued in court that the civil service board was created to hear such grievances and was the “most appropriate place for hearing these appeals.”
The cost-effective and efficient hearings provide a swift resolution for employees who feel they were wrongly disciplined or dismissed, according to LoRusso.
“Lawsuits are slow and expensive, not only for the county, but for the employees,” he said.
LoRusso said Carson did not perform a ministerial act in denying the appeal, but used her discretion as to whether the request was valid.
He argued that she did not properly evaluate the proposed reduction in force, which he contends was a “cloak” for terminating employees who supported other candidates in the recent sheriff’s election.
Jarrard countered that Carson’s act followed the policy, and for her to do otherwise would have been improper.
He called mandamus “an extraordinary remedy” used to order public officials who have not acted to do so rather than to reconsider a decision.
Jarrard maintained that Carson had taken action when she denied the request.
Several of the 11 terminated deputies attended the motion hearing, but did not speak, since the proceeding involved only legal arguments.