2 laid-off state workers win ruling over rights

September 15, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- A Baltimore County circuit judge has ruled that the state violated the constitutional rights of two employees it laid off last year by denying them notification and "bumping" rights required by law.

The ruling, which state officials say they will appeal to Maryland's highest court, appears to contradict a ruling this summer by an Anne Arundel County circuit judge in a similar case involving the firing of about 100 state employees.

How Maryland's Court of Appeals ultimately resolves the two cases could affect the lives of hundreds of people laid off during Maryland's budget crisis during the past two years. It also could affect plans by the Schaefer administration and the General Assembly to save money by cutting the size of the state's work force.

In a ruling last week, Baltimore County Circuit Judge J. William Hinkle said the state violated constitutional guarantees when it failed to give two veteran Workers Compensation Commission employees 90 days notice of their impending layoffs. The two also should have had the opportunity to keep a job by "bumping" other workers with less seniority, the judge held.

The two employees, Joan Parker and Norman Driver, lost their jobs June 30, 1991, after money for their salaries and benefits was eliminated by the General Assembly.

At the time, the state was acting under an opinion from Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. holding that the statutory layoff rights need not be extended if the legislature, the governor or the Board of Public Works eliminated a specific job for lack of money.

In the Parker and Driver cases, however, Judge Hinkle concluded that the legislature acted only after consulting with Workers Compensation Commission Chairman Charles J. Krysiak on which jobs in his agency should be eliminated -- and thus did not act unilaterally.

"The legislature cannot be allowed to perform an 'end run' around the statute which it enacted to confer benefits on senior employees [and] which the legislature has expressed its intention to support," Judge Hinkle wrote.

This summer, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme ruled the state had acted properly in a separate case by denying layoff rights to about 100 Maryland Classified Employees Association workers. Those layoffs last October were ordered by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and approved by the Board of Public Works. That case is already on appeal.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Zarnoch, counsel to the General Assembly, yesterday expressed surprise at Judge Hinkle's decision.

He said that, despite the latest ruling, the state is unlikely to change its handling of notification or bumping rights associated with future layoffs "until the Court of Appeals tells us we're wrong."

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