Fired former Jackson County, Ala., administrator Sandra Erickson on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the County Commission, its members and chairman, claiming breach of contract, wrongful termination, defamation and denial of due process.
The five newly elected commissioners who took office in November 2012 "wished to get rid of Erickson because she was a 'hold-over' from the prior Commission," according to a complaint filed in Jackson County Circuit Court by Erickson's lawyer, Julian Butler, of Huntsville, Ala.
The suit names Commissioners Tim Guffey, Jason Venable, Dennis Miller and Stacy Ledwell and Chairman Matthew Hodges.
Jackson County Attorney John Porter on Thursday declined comment on specifics of the case, but said the county has 30 days to file a response once it has been officially served.
Erickson, who was first contracted as administrator on July 8, 2012, had no record of disciplinary actions until Jan. 7 when she was given a "disciplinary memorandum" signed by Hodges and Ledwell in regard to November and December 2012 budget meetings, the suit states.
No disciplinary action was taken in connection with that memorandum.
She received a second memorandum May 22 related to procedures county employees used to input the number of hours worked per day, but neither memo "provided any indication that Erickson's alleged conduct was the type that could lead to the termination of her employment," the suit states.
Erickson was placed on administrative leave May 22 and received notice of termination a week later "due to willful and repeated failure to substantially perform your duties as County Administrator and willful misconduct and gross neglect in the performance in your duties that has been materially injurious to Jackson County."
The firing was upheld in a June 10 hearing before the county personnel board with only "unsworn testimony and no documents or other evidence to support a for cause basis for Erickson's termination," the suit states. Her contract states that if she is terminated for any reason other than cause, she is to receive her full salary and benefits through the term of her contract, the suit states.
Under her contract, "cause" is defined as "an intentional act of fraud, embezzlement, theft or misappropriation," conviction of "a crime involving moral turpitude, willful and repeated failure" to perform her duties, and "willful misconduct or gross neglect that is materially injurious" to the county.
The suit also claims Erickson was not given due process and that the defendants made "false and defamatory statements" about her that suggested "fraud, dishonesty or other moral turpitude."
The suit seeks an award of Erickson's salary starting June 10 at her contracted rate of $96,000 a year; 284.5 hours of sick leave; benefits; and the loss of becoming vested in the Retirement System of Alabama, the suit states. The suit also seeks compensation for "injuries to her good name and reputation."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...