The 11 employees terminated from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office in February have asked a judge to direct the local civil service board to hear their case.
Attorney Lance LoRusso, who represents the terminated employees, filed a writ of mandamus Friday in Forsyth County Superior Court, with the goal of attaining a decision-reversal hearing before the three-member panel.
“We believe that would be the correct result, for the court to order a hearing so they can have a hearing that they’re entitled to,” LoRusso said. “At this point, due process requires that they have an impartial hearing and an opportunity to be heard and present evidence.”
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.
In March, the civil service board followed the direction of the county’s personnel director, Pat Carson, who denied the employees’ request for a hearing based on civil service policy.
The board didn’t overturn Carson’s opinion to deny the hearing, based on a policy in the panel’s handbook that gives the personnel director the ability to determine a proper appeal.
Carson cited civil service policy that "denies the right of appeal when separation is due to a layoff."
LoRusso disagrees that the agency’s reorganization was a proper reduction in force, and also alleges procedural violations in cutting the positions.
On March 18, he wrote a letter to Carson, asking her to reverse the decision.
LoRusso said Friday: “I don’t believe she has the authority to act as a screener and prevent a hearing to start with.”
That request to reconsider was denied, according to a letter from Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
Dated April 1, Jarrard wrote in the letter that Carson followed county personnel policies.
“She has not used her position of authority to prevent a civil service hearing,” he wrote. “For Ms. Carson to have acted in derogation of those policies and simply decreed that an appellate right existed would have been improper.”
Reached Friday, Jarrard would say only that “the county is in receipt of the lawsuit and will respond as required by law.”
LoRusso said the employees would seek reinstatement of their jobs before the civil service board, which has the authority to reverse disciplinary actions or improper terminations.
“This has been very difficult for these people who served the county for a long period of time,” he said. “The process is a little slow. We’re now at only 60 days.
“If the civil service board had [accepted] the matter, the hearing would have to take place within 60 days, so we would be [having] that within the next 10 or 15 days.”
The 11 employees are all named in the suit with their rankings. They include: Sgts. Brian DeBlois and Christopher Shelton; Lts. Jason Burndrett, Michael Goode, Todd Maloney, Lisa Selke and David Waters; and Capts. William Chris Barrett, Ronnie Freeman, Michael Goike and Johnny Gomez.
Last week, Freeman was named deputy police chief for the new DeKalb County city of Brookhaven, which was incorporated in December.