Judge: ‘Kangaroo court’ led to Pelham employees’ firing

A Shelby County Circuit Court judge recently issued an order on a court appeal filed by three Pelham employees. (File)

A Shelby County Circuit Court judge recently issued an order on a court appeal filed by three Pelham employees. (File)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A Shelby County Circuit Court judge has ordered Pelham leaders to void the 2012 firing of three Public Works employees, and has ordered the city to provide back pay to the employees from their date of termination.

In an order entered in the Shelby County Circuit Court on Oct. 17, Judge Hub Harrington ordered the city to rehire Public Works employees Dale Bailey, David McCall and Justin Martin, who were terminated from their positions in early 2012.

According to Harrington’s order, the three employees were terminated after the results of a Pelham Police Department investigation were provided to city officials. The investigation was launched after “employee complaints were received concerning misconduct on the part of certain individuals working in the Pelham Public Works Department.”

The police report stated, “it is our firm belief that the threatening language and harassment occurred,” but noted “there is no proof to sustain most of the specific allegations.”

Shortly after the police report was issued, the three employees, who were then plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit against the city, were terminated from their positions. Other city employees who were “alleged to have participated in the inappropriate conduct” and who were not plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city were not terminated, Harrington wrote.

The employees then appealed the firing to the city’s Personnel Board.

During the Personnel Board appeal hearing, “the only testimony elicited by the board was that of the three terminated employees and no other,” according to Harrington’s order.

After the Personnel Board upheld the three employees’ termination in April 2012, the employees appealed the decision to the Circuit Court.

In his order, Harrington wrote the city’s Personnel Board “considered the burden of proof to be upon the accused employees to prove their innocence,” and claimed the board held the appeal hearing to “feign compliance” with the Alabama Civil Service Law.

“Had the city actually attempted to justify the termination rather than simply holding a kangaroo court, the outcome of this case could well have been different,” Harrington wrote. “The court also notes that since this matter arose, the city administration has completely changed.

“The court trusts that the new administration will heed the sage advice offered by the police department investigators and restore order to the Public Works Department,” Harrington wrote.

On Oct. 18, Pelham City Attorney Frank “Butch” Ellis said he did not want to offer comment on Harrington’s order before speaking with Pelham officials. Pelham Mayor Gary Waters said he and the Pelham City Council still must decide if it will accept or appeal Harrington’s ruling.