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COA divided over dismissing fired HR director’s complaint

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was split over whether Delaware County commissioners could terminate the contract of the Board of Commissioners’ human resources director after two new members were elected to the board.

Beverly Evans was hired in 2007 and given an employment contract saying she’d serve as H.R. director for three years. But about two years into the employment term, Evans’ contract was terminated after two new commissioners were elected to the board. The board didn’t provide Evans with 15 days written notice of her termination for good cause as required by her employment contract.

She sued in 2011 for breach of contract, and the board of commissioners sought to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under Trial Rule 12(B)(6). The trial court denied the motion, but a divided appellate court on interlocutory appeal reversed.

Judges Cale Bradford and John Baker agreed with the board’s argument that by binding it to its predecessor members’ choice for H.R. director, Evans’ contract prevents the board’s successor members from implementing the polices desired by the majority of the public who elected them. The majority cited caselaw which said that a county board of commissioners doesn’t have the power to limit the discretionary functions of its successors.

In The Board of Commissioners of Delaware County a/k/a Delaware County Commissioners v. Beverly J. Evans, 18A05-1201-PL-14, the majority found the language in Evans’ employment contract and job description requires the performance of discretionary functions.

“Were it to be held valid, Evans’s contract would inhibit the Board, as newly constituted, from exercising the discretionary powers entrusted to it by the electorate,” Bradford wrote. “Evans’s contract is therefore void as against public policy, and her complaint fails to state an actionable claim.”

But Chief Judge Margret Robb didn’t agree that Evans’ complaint should be dismissed. Her employment contract does appear to grant her a role in certain discretionary functions, but Robb doesn’t think it goes so far as to limit the discretionary functions of the commissioners overseeing her position.

“The major decision-making authority remains with the Commissioners,” she wrote.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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