David G. Young may have technically gotten his job back, but that doesn’t mean he will be at work today.
On Wednesday morning Young made an appearance in chancery court to find out whether or not he would be reinstated in the job he was terminated from on Sept. 1.
In asking to be reinstated, Young was claiming city officials violated their own procedures when they placed him on administrative leave and subsequently fired him.
He had filed a petition in chancery court asking Chancellor Billy Joe White to return him to his position as city administrator.
In the petition filed following his suspension in late August, Young, through his attorney, David Dunaway, says Mayor Mike Stanfield and the four-man council didn’t follow the guidelines of LaFollette’s personnel manual when they suspended him. Instead, the group acted “in an arbitrary and unreasonable manner.”
As John Roach, attorney representing the city of LaFollette, squared off with Dunaway on the matter of whether proper procedure was followed in Young’s dismissal both called on the pages of the city’s employee handbook to make their case.
For his part Roach argued that despite the presence of a contract Young was an at-will employee who was hired “at the pleasure of the council.” And as a result Young could also be fired without cause by the council.
“An at-will employee can be terminated for good, bad or no reason at all,” Roach said defending his argument with case law.
Roach implored White to dismiss Young’s writ of certiorari on the grounds that his contract was not valid and that such a contract would be contradictory to the city’s charter.
Dunaway took a shot at Roach’s argument claiming that the city of LaFollette “cannot have its cake and eat it too.”
“Mr. Roach is mixing apples and oranges in this case,” Dunaway told the court stating that the validity of Young’s contract had no bearing on the day’s hearing.
According to Dunaway, because the city council had allowed itself to convene as a judicial tribunal in August to discuss the sexual harassment grievance lodged by Linda White, city recorder, there was a particular procedure that had to be followed.
“If you are going to have a tribunal you don’t do what the mayor did and call everyone to have a circus and bring his own executioner,” Dunaway said of the August proceedings he called “the best circus and side show” he had ever seen.
Dunaway also argued that if the council had determined Young’s contract to be invalid and dismissed him on those grounds Roach would have had a valid claim. However, by opening the door to having to prove Young had sexually harassed White, the contract discussion was of no consequence.
“If they had wanted to terminate Mr. Young’s contract after discussion Mr. Roach could have come here today with a clean face,” Dunaway said.
The chancellor broke into Dunaway’s argument to gain clarification on what Young was asking for.
“So what you want me to do is decide whether or not this man was terminated legally,” White asked and Dunaway agreed.
Dunaway also offered that during their “tribunal” council members were never able to prove Young guilty of sexual harassment.
Following Dunaway’s remarks Roach took time to point out that the same employee handbook Young’s attorney argued protected him gave council members the right to fire him.
“The employee handbook is not a contract between Young and the city,” Roach said noting that the document specifies that employees are employed at will for no specific amount of time.
Roach again reiterated that Young was appointed at the “pleasure of the council” and could also be terminated by them.
When Roach and Dunaway had been given ample opportunity to present their cases White wasted little time getting to his decision.
“I spent all day yesterday (Tuesday) reading this record and I’m ready to rule on it,” White told those gathered in the courtroom. “This court has absolutely no interest in the political wars of the city of LaFollette.”
As he made his way to the final decision, White said Young’s alleged comments to Linda White and others were “boorish and out of line” but did not “rise to the level of sexual harassment.”
“This procedure was handled totally improperly. The court finds that the entire procedure was illegal and this man (Young) should be reinstated,” White told the audience who offered little reaction.
With White’s ruling handed down, Roach stood to contest the decision for reinstatement arguing that the court did not have that authority.
Dunaway did not dispute Roach’s argument, contending that because White ruled that Young’s case had been handled illegally Young could return to his city administrator post without a ruling by the chancellor.
Following the hearing Young said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I’m just glad that I have finally been vindicated by a public official,” Young said of White’s decision.
Stanfield said he was disappointed by the ruling.
“I am kind of disappointed in Judge White,” Stanfield said of the decision. “This thing is going to be long and drawn and it’s going to be ugly.”
While he was less than thrilled with the decision Stanfield said he was not surprised.
“It’s not hat I wanted but I’m really not surprised,” Stanfield said.
When asked if Young would be returning to work the mayor stated that he would be meeting with the council at 8 a.m. this morning to determine the next course of action.
“I am going to do what my council tells me to do,” Stanfield said.
While Dunaway said that White’s decision “redeemed” Young, his client’s employment status is still in limbo.
“He (Young) was ready to show up for work tomorrow, but we were told by Roach not to bother showing up because they were going to fire him tomorrow,” Dunaway said.
Dunaway said if the council determines to fire Young for cause then cause must be proven which will put the case back at square one.
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