CHAPEL HILL – Two former Chapel Hill sanitation workers could get the opportunity to fight for their jobs and lost compensation after the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled to allow them a hearing of their peers.
“It’s been almost a year now since Judge Baddour dismissed the claim—basically (doing) what Chapel Hill’s lawyer asked him to do,” says Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark’s attorney, Al McSurely who is a civil rights attorney with McSurely and Turner, PLLC in Chapel Hill.
“Mr. Clark still has not found regular work,” McSurely says. “I think Mr. Bigelow has found some work.”
Bigelow and Clark were fired in October 2010 for insubordination and complaints by town residents about their job performance. An investigation was conducted by Raleigh-based human resource and compliance firm, Capital Associated Industries and recommended the men be fired; the Citizens Advisory Committee concurred.
The Town of Chapel Hill created a page on its website explaining the reasons for termination and provides copious amounts of documentation about the case. It explains that the termination was not based on a single incident and that multiple residents had complained about the former employees’ service and intimidating behavior. You can find that information here.
McSurely says a recent case regarding another former employee of the town’s sanitation department, Lee Thompson, adds confusion to this case.
Thompson was cashing a check at the State Employees’ Credit Union on Pittsboro Road when the bank manager asked him to remove a fallen limb from the side yard of the business. McSurely says it took Thompson and his partner only about five minutes to cut it up and throw it in the back of the truck.
“We felt like that was a contradiction,” McSurely says. “If you were a public works employee in Chapel Hill, you didn’t know whether you should do something people asked you or you shouldn’t do it.”
He says the Personnel Appeals Committee unanimously ruled about a month ago that Thompson should not be fired. Town Manager Roger Stancil has to make the final ruling, and McSurely says the rule states it should be done within two weeks of the committee’s presenting the ruling to the town manager. He says as of Monday, no decision has been announced.
When Bigelow and Clark’s lawsuit against the town was sent to Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour nearly a year ago, McSurely says the Judge’s explanation didn’t go in depth into why he threw it out.
“We had made about four or five claims,” McSurely says. “We felt like they had violated their First Amendment rights. All of this is under the North Carolina Constitution.”
Judge Baddour told WCHL that it would not be appropriate for him for comment on the case.
The Town has 30 days to appeal the decision to the N.C. Supreme Court, but McSurely says he’s confident that it won’t and that the men will get their court date.
By Wednesday afternoon, McSurely said he had tried to contact his clients but was not yet able to reach them.