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Laid-off sheriff's employees plan appeal
Litigation likely as none accept severance offer
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Forsyth County News

The 11 Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office employees laid off last week have hired an attorney to represent them in appealing the decision.

The middle management positions were eliminated as part of a restructuring the agency announced Feb. 20.

Sheriff Duane Piper, who took office in January, has said the personnel moves were aimed at enhancing responsiveness to the public and increasing efficiency within the agency. The restructuring also included reassigning 60 employees.

The layoffs and elimination of two vacant positions will save more than $1 million, Piper has said.

Those who were laid off had until 5 p.m. Monday to accept a severance package of three months’ salary in return for signing a waiver that they would not sue the county, among other terms, said Maj. Rick Doyle, director of operations for the sheriff’s office.

“They declined by not taking any action,” Doyle said.

The former employees had various levels of experience with the agency, ranging from eight to 25 years, and included four captains, five lieutenants and two sergeants.

They have retained attorney Lance LoRusso, who contends the sheriff’s office “failed to follow policy for a reduction in force.”

LoRusso also questioned whether the agency’s actions constituted a “bona fide restructuring,” citing at least one reassignment that appeared to fill the spot of a person who’d been laid off.

He added that those who were terminated either didn’t support or opposed Piper’s candidacy in the 2012 election, so their terminations could have been politically motivated.

Also, nine of the 11 laid off are older than 40, LoRusso said, which brings the Age Discrimination in Employment Act into consideration.

“There’s at least a question as to whether or not their age was inappropriately considered in making the decision,” he said.

LoRusso said that argument is made stronger by the recent hiring of employees all younger than 40.

According to Doyle, no hires have been made, though the office is in the process of filling six or seven entry-level positions. He confirmed that Piper’s son is one of the applicants for a spot.

Doyle also said the employees laid off were older because attaining a middle management position requires experience.

Their positions included: a captain and lieutenant from the jail; a captain and lieutenant from the courthouse; a lieutenant and sergeant in animal control; a captain and two lieutenants in the uniform patrol division; a captain in warrants; and a sergeant in the traffic specialist unit.

He noted that the agency retained many older employees and those who supported other candidates.

The 11 who were laid off have appealed through the county’s informal appeal process by each sending a letter to Piper on Friday asking to reinstate them.

According to county policy, Piper has 10 days to respond.

If the decision isn’t agreeable, the employees then have five days to seek an appeal with the Forsyth County Civil Service Board.

The termination notices, however, state that “pursuant to Policy 4 of the Forsyth County Civil Service Handbook, dismissals as a result of a reduction in force do not create a right of appeal.”

However, LoRusso said since the group doesn’t believe the reduction in force was done properly, the employees should have that right to appeal.

Doyle countered that the office was “very cautious.”

“We followed every rule, every regulation, everything we could,” he said. “It’s unfortunate when you’re restructuring an agency for efficiency, you’ve got to make tough decisions.

“We made the decisions that we felt were best for the needs of the sheriff’s office and the county.”