The State Worker

Court’s firing racks up $800,000-plus bill

Nearly six years and two court decisions after Nancy McGie was fired, she is waiting for the $800,000-plus her lawyer says she’s owed.

Her case in rural Glenn County illustrates a central civil-service truth: Employees can’t be fired on a whim. There’s a process. Violate it and risk writing a big check and reinstating the person who was let go.

The Glenn County court hired McGie, a lawyer, in 2007 to work in its family courts to manage a self-help program for people who handle their own litigation.

In September 2009 she was fired for allegedly “doing legal work as a private attorney preparing and filing conservatorship cases ... on court time,” an appellate-court summary states.

McGie received no warning and no chance to respond because she was an “at-will” employee and subject to termination without civil-service protections, according to the summary.

Except she wasn’t. After arbitration attempts failed, the case was moved to Yolo County, where a jury decided in 2013 that McGie was not an at-will worker. (One clue: County employment forms presented in court left the “at will” box unchecked.) Therefore she was wrongly denied due process, including the right to contest the action with an arbitrator.

Glenn County appealed to Sacramento’s 3rd District Court, but Justices Cole Blease, Louis Mauro and Ronald B. Robie chopped up the government’s position like sushi:

“(R)egardless of whether the (Glenn County) court had a legitimate basis for terminating McGie’s employment, the court and the court alone is responsible for imposing that discipline on McGie wrongfully.”

McGie’s attorney Steve Bassoff sent a letter to Glenn County’s attorney, offering to allow the county court to make monthly payments with interest. Instead, the employer appealed.

The appellate court also upheld the trial court’s ruling that McGie must be paid all the wages she lost. Glenn County reinstated McGie last December. But it still has not paid the $9,400-per-month salary McGie lost for 62 months plus 10 percent interest Bassoff says is appropriate in this case. Then tack on benefits and her legal costs.

Sparsely populated Glenn County’s court payroll this year averages about $120,000 per month, according to county documents. It employs just two judges. It can ill afford cutting an $800,000 check.

Sacramento-based attorney Tim Yeung, who recently took over the case for Glenn County, declined to say much: “The parties are attempting to reach a resolution and we hope to reach a resolution.”

A hearing is set for next month, during which the judge could order Glenn County to pay up. If it can’t, Bassoff said, the Legislature may have to come up with state-taxpayer money to cover a lawsuit decision where an employer – a court, no less – didn’t follow the law.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043. For more columns, go to sacbee.com/stateworker. Sign up for State Worker email alerts at www.sacbee.com/site-services/newsletters.

  Comments