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Sheriff's response next in appeal process
Former employees seek reinstatement
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper has until March 8 to respond to the appeals of 11 employees laid off in a recent restructuring at the agency.

According to the county’s civil service handbook, an elected official must provide a written response within 10 days of an employee filing an informal appeal.

The 11 employees each sent letters to Piper on Friday requesting that their positions be reinstated.

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.

The officers, who ranged in rank from sergeant to captain, assert that the terminations violated county policy by not constituting a “bona fide reduction in force,” according to their attorney, Lance LoRusso.

LoRusso cited at least one reassignment that appeared to fill the spot of a person who had been laid off.

If Piper denies the letter requests in the informal appeal process, the employees then have five days to seek a formal appeal with the Forsyth County Civil Service Board.

The termination notices 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.

LoRusso 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 Maj. Rick Doyle, no hires have been made, though the sheriff’s office is in the process of filling six or seven entry-level positions.

Doyle, director of operations for the agency, also said the employees laid off were older simply 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, as well as those who supported other candidates.

According to LoRusso, one of the 11 who were laid off was about three months away from his retirement date.

Pat Carson, the county’s personnel director, said that employee was offered an opportunity to use the severance package for a bridge to retirement.

The status would also allow him to draw from the pension plan and receive retiree reduced rates for insurance under COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, Carson said.

Accepting severance package, which included three months’ salary, also required those who had been laid off to sign a waiver that they would not take legal action against the county, among other terms.