Most employment in Alabama is “at-will” meaning the employee can quit or can be fired at any time for a good reason or no reason at all. There are exceptions to at-will employment. Employers can’t fire their employees for a prohibited reason (like their race, religion, or disability). Employers may be limited in when and how they fire employees if there is an employment contract. Or, some types of employees may have have rights protected by Alabama laws.
Employee Accused of Not Doing Their Job
It was the last category, those employees with special statutory rights, that was the basis of a city employee’s wrongful termination case recently decided by the Alabama Supreme Court in Wiggins v. City of Evergreen. In Wiggins a city magistrate had allegedly failed to do her job and as a result the city fired her after she had worked there for 20 years.
When a citizen came to her office for an arrest warrant, the employee sent the citizen away and asked them to come back a couple hours later. The citizen came back later and got the warrant from a different magistrate, but the alleged “nonfeasance” had already been done and the employee was fired.
City Employee Had Right to A Hearing
When a city officer is fired, they are entitled to a hearing. The employee in Wiggins requested and received a hearing before the City Council. After the hearing the city council voted to fire her, the employee appealed her case to the circuit court.
Fired City Employee Had Limited Right to Court Appeal
Though the case was appealed to the circuit court, the review of the case was limited. The circuit court could not conduct a new hearing. The court only looked to see if city had violated the law, and whether there was enough evidence to fire the employee.
The circuit court ruled that the city employee did not do her job. Apparently, the employee did not testify at the hearing, so the only evidence was against her. As a result the court ruled there was enough evidence for her to be fired and that the city didn’t break the law when it terminated her employment.
Employee Failed to Raise Legal Issues at the Right Time
After the circuit court ruled the city did not break the law, the employee appealed the Alabama Supreme Court. There the employee challenged whether she had been dismissed by a 2/3 vote; whether the law dismissing her violated the separation of powers; and other legal issues. The Supreme Court faulted her for not raising issues earlier and, like the circuit court, ruled that there was enough evidence for the city council to terminate her for failing to do her job.
How to protect your rights as an employee:
- If you’ve got an employee contract or handbook, read it. You should also keep copies of any updates or changes to your contract or employee handbook;
- If you work for the city or are another type of worker that has the right to a termination hearing be sure to make a written request a hearing;
- Contact a lawyer to representing you at the termination hearing;
- Read the Alabama Supreme Court opinion in Wiggins v. City of Evergreen here; and
- Call the lawyers of Browne House Law about your wrongful termination.