Schoharie County

Lawsuits of laid-off Schoharie County workers dismissed

Three former employees who sued Schoharie County for cutting their jobs from the budget had their cl

Three former employees who sued Schoharie County for cutting their jobs from the budget had their claims thrown out by a state Supreme Court justice who ruled earlier this month that none of them proved the job cuts were unlawful.

Eva Gigandet, the county’s former public health preparedness coordinator, Penny Grimes, a former public health educator, and Sean Jordan, who worked as an economic development assistant, all filed lawsuits in April seeking reinstatement and back pay.

The county eliminated roughly 30 positions last fall to whittle down a proposed 18 percent tax increase. These and other cuts resulted in a $59 million budget for 2012 that fell within the state’s tax cap.

In separate decisions dated Aug. 1 and Aug 13, Supreme Court Justice Eugene P. Devine dismissed all three complaints.

Gigandet in her lawsuit contended her termination was arbitrary and capricious and said her position was cut in bad faith because her job was paid for with federal grant funding.

But in its defense, lawyers for the county countered that a review of the Health Department called for restructuring because of communication lapses and the lack of any oversight on Gigandet’s position.

As to financial savings, Devine in his ruling said the federal grant money paid for salary but not benefits and other employee-related costs.

Gigandet claimed her position was created by a legislative act and alleged the job’s elimination violated the doctrine of “legislative equivalency,” meaning the job would have to be cut by a corresponding legislative act.

Devine agreed with the county and deemed the adoption of the budget, and discussions leading up to it, were essentially the same thing as a legislative act that created the position.

Grimes in her lawsuit made similar allegations, including the job being grant-funded, and claimed her position was cut because of her age of 64.

Devine in his ruling agreed with the county’s contention that the job cut saved money, noting that “while a portion of [Grimes’] salary was provided by grant funding, the cost of [Grimes’] benefits, including retirement contributions and health insurance, constituted roughly one-half of [Grimes’] $58,538 salary and were not covered by the state grant.”

Former economic development assistant Sean Jordan’s lawsuit was also dismissed by Devine, who heard Jordan had been approached with several issues related to job performance including tardiness, unexcused absences and the use of department computers for “personal business activities.”

Schoharie County Attorney Michael West on Monday said all three former employees have a 30-day window in which to appeal the decisions.

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