Published: Jul 14, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 14, 2012 07:03 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Two former sanitation workers who sued the town of Chapel Hill and Town Manager Roger Stancil last year after being fired in 2010 still want their day in court.
Orange County Superior Court Judge R. Allen Baddour Jr. dismissed the suit May 29 upon the towns and Stancils request without explaining his reason.
But attorneys Al McSurely and Clay Turner, who represent fired workers Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark, filed a notice to appeal the judges ruling to the state Court of Appeals on June 13.
If the appeal succeeds, a judge in Orange County Superior Court will reevaluate the case. The judge could rule on the case before it reaches a jury trial.
Dan M. Hartzog Jr., the towns attorney, said he could not comment on the case.
Bigelow and Clark were fired more than two years ago following complaints from residents who said the men were intimidating and neglecting some trash on their routes.
The town hired a Raleigh nonprofit consulting firm, Capital Associated Industries, to investigate the complaints. It recommended that the two men be fired, and a citizens advisory committee also upheld the firings.
The lawsuit dismissed by Baddour claims that the towns decision to fire Bigelow and Clark violates the N.C. Constitution by infringing on their right to free speech and discriminating based on race.
Turner said it is rare for civil lawsuits to make claims under the N.C. Constitution. He said he wasnt surprised that the judge dismissed the constitutional claims.
State law doesnt allow plaintiffs to sue directly under the N.C. Constitution unless they have exhausted all other state law remedies, such as a claim for wrongful discharge.
But the lawsuit also sued the town for wrongful discharge, and Turner said he did not expect the judge to dismiss that claim.
(The wrongful discharge claim) is the adequate state remedy but it is no remedy at all because it was also dismissed, leaving them with no remedy, Turner said.
The wrongful discharge claim in the lawsuit states that the men were fired in retaliation for participating in a labor union and filing complaints with the union about job safety concerns and the towns hiring practices.
State law protects employees who participate in unions and file complaints against their employers.
A statement released by the town after Bigelow and Clark were fired said the town does not discriminate against employees who exercise their right to participate in a union.
The Town, through its policies and procedures, attempts to create and foster an environment where all citizens and employees feel valued, respected and safe, according to the public statement. The employees were terminated because their actions were not consistent with the Towns values, policies or procedures.
The lawsuit demands that the town reinstate Clark and Bigelow in their former positions, and compensate the men for the damages that they suffered, including emotional distress. It also demands that the town pay attorneys fees and back pay from the date they were terminated.