Judge: Former Pitco engineer wasn’t wrongfully terminated
December 16, 2002
A former county employee who was fired after 20 years on the job cannot claim he was wrongfully terminated, a judge ruled earlier this month.
Judge T. Peter Craven of the 9th District Court issued a summary judgment on Dec. 5 that significantly undermines John Dady’s case against Pitkin County.
Dady, who was fired more than two years ago, is seeking damages for dissemination of false information about his work as the county television/radio engineer. He is also seeking payment for unpaid vacation, sick leave and overtime.
Craven’s judgement did not directly address the matters of unpaid vacation, sick leave and overtime, or the effects of news about Dady’s firing. But it did reject the foundation ? a claim of wrongful termination ? upon which those claims were made.
From 1980 until the summer of 2000, Dady’s job as the county’s translator system engineer put him in charge of installing and maintaining the system of antennas, known as translators, that rebroadcast television and radio signals into homes throughout the county.
In late 1999, the county turned off 19 translators because they were not licensed with the Federal Communications Commission, as required by law.
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Television reception was disrupted in several areas, including parts of Aspen, as a result.
Dady was suspended with pay while the county investigated the situation. He was terminated in August 2000, allegedly for lying to a lawyer hired by the county to work out the licensing mess.
According to briefs filed with Judge Craven, Dady maintains he was told to install translator antennas regardless of FCC requirements at a meeting in 1982 or 1983 with a county commissioner, the county manager and the county attorney.
Dady also maintains that every county manager and section supervisor since has been aware of the licensing problems.
Dady appealed his firing to the county’s personnel review board, made up of county employees from every level, which, after an eight-day hearing, came out in Dady’s favor and recommended he be reinstated. But County Manager Hilary Smith rejected the recommendation and upheld the firing.
Her decision was upheld this fall by the Pitkin County commissioners, so Dady took the issue to court.
In his Dec. 5 ruling, Judge Craven rejected Dady’s argument that the grievance procedures contained in the Pitkin County home rule charter creates a contract between the county and employees like him.
But Craven noted that Dady has signed acknowledgments of having read and understood the county employee policy manual eight times between 1991 and 2000, each with an explicit statement saying there was no employment contract in place. Craven also pointed out that the county’s employee policies make it clear that all jobs are “at will,” and can be terminated by either employer or employee at any time.
And finally, the judge pointed out that the termination procedure “merely forms the regimen by which an employee may have adequate notice and opportunity to be heard in the process of being terminated.”
“Therefore, the termination was lawful, [and] the First Claim for Relief based on the breach of an employment by wrongful termination is hereby dismissed with prejudice,” Craven wrote. With prejudice means the claim cannot be filed again in district court.
“That’s the big claim ? wrongful termination,” said County Commissioner Mick Ireland. “Once you get rid of that, the rest of the lawsuit should be disposed of without damages to the county.”
The judge will consider arguments pertaining to Dady’s claims of defamation and unpaid sick leave, overtime and vacation next year.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is email@example.com]