Shawn Terris appeared before the Santa Barbara Civil Service Commission to appeal a layoff notice that she argues was further evidence of the county’s six-year pattern of discrimination and harassment against her, for reasons including her organization efforts and sexual orientation. The August 7 notice violated the county’s Civil Service rules, said Terris’s attorney, James Cordes, at a meeting of the commission on Thursday, August 20. Cordes asked that the commission either appeal the layoff or hold a hearing to address allegations that the process by which Terris was fired was not conducted in accordance with Civil Service Rules.
The commission met last month to discuss a five-day disciplinary suspension the Sheriff’s Department issued to Terris for her after-hours use of county facilities-email, specifically-to organize county managers. Though no decision has yet been made based on the evidence and testimony of the July hearing, the commission decided today to schedule another hearing for Terris in early September to decide the legality of the county’s process in issuing Terris’s layoff notice.
Terris was sent a memo on July 7 informing her that, due to budget cuts, her position was due to be deleted. She was given the option to choose to be laid off, or accept a different position (a choice that would result in the bump of another employee from his or her position). Terris responded by saying she would prefer to exercise her Displacement Right and take the other position-only to receive another notice on August 8 telling her that due to the recent special-skills designation of the position to which she was going to be reassigned, she was no longer qualified for the job and would be laid off.
County Counsel Steven Underwood countered Terris’s allegations by arguing that not only had the county adhered to layoff protocols, but the commission didn’t have the authority to appeal the notice of layoff. Any claims of harassment or discrimination would need to be taken up with the Equal Employment Opportunity Resources Office rather than the commission, he said.
When it was suggested that Terris’s discrimination and layoff complaints should be addressed separately, Commissioner Richard Solomon questioned whether or not such a division was possible in this case. The Civil Services rule concerning layoffs allows for the commission to consider whether the layoff was conducted in a proper fashion, but not the validity of the motivation for the layoff, he said. “The spirit of the rule is that we do not have the right to question the layoff decision,” agreed Solomon. “[I]t was not designed to cover a layoff essentially motivated to get rid of an unpopular employee,” he added, describing the situation in which Terris feels she was fired.
Ultimately the commission decided, with the input of Terrance Bonham, who served as hearing officer for Terris’s previous hearing, that it indeed did not have the authority or responsibility to make any decisions about the motivation for Terris’s layoff, merely to determine the legality of the procedure.
After an extensive discussion which began to seem a great deal like a hearing itself, according to Chair Commissioner Marty Mariscal, it was decided that Terris would be granted a hearing in early September that would be limited to whether the layoff procedures were properly followed. The commission recommended that Terris file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Resources Office to address her concerns of harassment and discrimination. The hearing is set for September 9, several days after Terris’s layoff will go into effect, with Bonham again serving as hearing officer.