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Court upholds judgment in favor of Cedar Lake

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A fired employee’s claim that he had a constitutionally protected interest in his job with the Town of Cedar Lake and that he was entitled to due process before being fired failed on appeal.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment entered by the trial court for the town of Cedar Lake and town council. In his  complaint, Wynkoop asked the court to find the disciplinary procedure instituted against him for violating town code of conduct and the town’s policy and procedure manual violated his due process rights under the personnel policy.

He relied on language in the procedure manual to support his claim, but that manual continually said it is not a contract of employment and contained an at-will employment provision. The manual also outlined progressive disciplinary policies and an employee appeal provision.

After a hearing, the town administrator sent a letter informing Wynkoop he would be suspended and his position demoted; he refused to acknowledge the letter and was eventually fired.

In Doug Wynkoop v. The Town of Cedar Lake, Indiana, and the Town Council of the Town of Cedar Lake, Indiana, 45A05-1111-PL-602, Judges L. Mark Bailey and Paul Mathias ruled that under Indiana law, Wynkoop didn’t have a cognizable property right in his position and was an employee-at-will, regardless of any language in the manual.

Chief Judge Margret Robb concurred in result.

“In an at-will state such as Indiana, an employer is not obligated to furnish to its employees a statement of its employment policies,” she wrote. “Having made statements in writing about the terms and conditions of employment, however, it is fundamentally unfair to allow an employer to essentially declare those statements illusory and raise the ‘employment at will’ doctrine as a shield when it is called to task by an employee who can demonstrate detrimental reliance on the employer’s failure to abide by those terms and conditions.”

But, Wynkoop didn’t demonstrate detrimental reliance on the provisions of the manual, so she agreed that the trial court decision should be affirmed.

 

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