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VICTORY! Judge Orders Chattanooga City Employee Back to Work

November 7, 2012

An administrative law judge ruled that the city’s decision to terminate an 18-year employee of the City Court Clerk’s office was unjust and that the action was based on personal, not professional reasons. The employee was ordered back to work with back pay in an order rendered by administrative judge Marion Wall.

According to documents related to the case, Lillian Smith, a Court Technician, was terminated in August 2009 as the result of an audit conducted by her superior, Jan Turner, who now serves as the Interim Court Clerk for the City of Chattanooga. Smith and Turner both admitted that they have never gotten along as co-workers and that tension escalated when Turner decided to do an audit of her employees’ leave time. That audit – which would normally be done by the city’s audit divistion – was done by Turner herself and her findings indicated that Smith had made errors in her recordkeeping. Smith, who had no time to prepare for her disciplinary hearing or to analyze the errors Turner found, was unable to defend herself in the hearing and was terminated.

However, in a careful review of the alleged errors in Smith’s recordkeeping, it was discovered that Turner had overstated the number of errors. Furthermore, it was discovered that other employees were allowed to correct their recordkeeping errors during this audit, but that Smith was not given that opportunity. According to judge Wall’s order, “it seems entirely possible that Ms. Turner was out to get Ms. Smith and used the compensatory time records to do it”. As a result, the city’s decision to terminate Smith was set aside as Wall revealed that “this action was based on personal and not professional reasons.”

“Justice was served for Lillian Smith, but it is unfortunate that it took a court order to get the Administration’s attention on this,” said Doug Collier, President of the Service Employees International Union, Local 205. Local 205 represented Ms. Smith in her case. “When the Mayor refuses to work with employees or labor organizations to address issues like this, it forces employees to take the city to court. It’s unfortunate that the Administration chooses this path instead of trying to sit down and work these issues out without costing taxpayers money.”