Officer’s termination based on DA’s decision not to accept her cases was disciplinary in nature under Civil Service Act says 3rd Court of Appeals

Stephanie Hoskins Brown v. The City of Georgetown, et al. 03-14-00231-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, September 22, 2015)

This is a civil service case where the threshold question is whether an officer’s termination was disciplinary in nature or the result of her inability to perform the job.

Brown was an officer with the City of Georgetown, which has adopted civil service protection for law enforcement. A former boyfriend, Eric Poteet, filed a complaint against Brown alleging she took his prescription medications and used illegal controlled substances. Poteet freely admitted the complaint was made with a vengeance in mind. After an investigation the Chief of Police determined Brown had used controlled substances illegally and been untruthful when questioned. She was indefinitely suspended and appealed to a hearing examiner. The hearing examiner reduced her suspension to 15 days. Prior to the hearing examiner’s determination, the county and district attorney informed the Chief they would not accept cases in which Brown was an investigating officer. As a result, the City again indefinitely suspended her. She attempted to appeal, but the Civil Service Commission informed her the she was ineligible. The Commission asserted her termination was not disciplinary in nature, but an inability to perform the job requirements. Brown filed suit and the City filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court granted the plea and Brown appealed.

The Third Court of Appeals held that the record does not demonstrate the termination was based on Brown’s qualifications. The evidence showed that the prosecutors’ decision not to accept Brown’s cases was based on Chief Nero’s accusations of untruthfulness, which the hearing examiner found to be groundless. And instead of abiding by the hearing examiner’s award, which was “final and binding on all parties,” see Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 143.057(c), “Chief Nero allowed the unilateral decision of elected officials to circumvent the protections of the Civil Service Act.” However, because Brown has not exhausted all of her administrative remedies the trial court does not have jurisdiction to order reinstatement with back pay and benefits.  Her appeal on the second termination must be submitted to the civil service commission as a disciplinary termination.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Puryear, Justice Pemberton and Justice Field. Opinion by Justice Field.  The docket page with attorney listings can be found here.

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