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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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