Judge Blocks Haslam’s Move to Lay Off 200 State Employees

A Nashville judge issued a restraining order Monday against Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lay off more than 200 state workers this month, acting on a lawsuit filed by state employees.
From Andy Sher’s report:
The suit charges top state officials violated provisions in law surrounding a 60-day notice for affected employees.
Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon granted employees’ request for a restraining order and has scheduled a hearing for this coming Monday in the case, said attorney Larry Woods, who is representing the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of individual state workers, including several from Hamilton County.
TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the suit was filed with “great reluctance” after last-minute meetings with state officials, including Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, failed to produce results.
Contacted Monday night, Haslam Communications Director Alexia Poe said by email “it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on potential/pending litigation.”
While the state provided the notices throughout April, officials did not comply with a section that says soon-to-be-fired employees be given “career counseling, job testing, and placement efforts,” the suit says.
That’s because the state’s Department of Human Resources on May 9 took down the agency’s Neogov online service that employees must use to find job openings and apply for them, according to state employees.
Hiring is now frozen and the site doesn’t come back up until June 19 — a day after 72 state Labor and Workforce Development workers are slated to lose their jobs following notices provided April 19.
Another 126 employees in the Department of General Services were given notice on April 25 that they were losing their jobs on June 28. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of state office buildings to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm.
Woods said the suit seeks to enjoin the Haslam administration from dismissing or terminating any state employees in the current reduction-in-force actions “unless they receive 60 days of career counseling, job testing and placement” services.
The suit says Haslam, Hunter, who is a former Hamilton County personnel director, and other state officials are running afoul of protections lawmakers inserted in Haslam’s own 2012 civil service overhaul.
The state employees’ group initially opposed the legislation, saying it would wreck protections and open the way to political patronage. But TSEA’s O’Connell said the group accepted the bill after lawmakers inserted protections including the 60-day notice and the chance to move elsewhere within state government.

Note: News release from TSEA is below.

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association:
NASHVILLE, TN. – The Tennessee State Employees Association (TSEA) has filed a class action lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Davidson County against the State of Tennessee charging that the state violated Tennessee law by failing to give the legally required 60-day notice to hundreds of state employees being laid off before the end of this month.
On May 9th 2013, only days after lay-off notices were sent out, the state shut down its NeoGov job-posting site. By doing so, hundreds of laid-off state employees were deprived their right to 60 days of career counseling, job placement and job testing.
TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said, “An intention of the 60-day notice was to provide laid-off state employees assistance finding other work, including work within state government. When the State shut down their NeoGov job-posting site on May 9th, they made these things unavailable to all those employees who had only gotten through the first one-third of their notice period.”
The Association’s Complaint seeks a proper 60-day notice, as provided by law, for any state employee who received a layoff notice on or around April 19th, 2013. The lawsuit contends that the state shut down its NeoGov job posting website portal on May 9th and posted a notice that states, “job postings are suspended until June 19th, 2013.” TSEA asserts the 60-day notice provision of the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act – Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-30-314 – was included by the legislature for the state to provide career counseling, job placement and job testing for laid-off state employees, therefore only the first 20 days of the 60-day notice issued to state employees on April 19th can be counted as effective notice.
Late yesterday afternoon, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), ordering the state not to dismiss any state employees in a layoff “until and unless said employees have received at least 60 days of notice during which a list and notice of open and available state jobs have been accessible by said employees” for job placement. The TRO will remain in effect at least until the June 17th, 2013 hearing on TSEA’s request for a temporary injunction.
TSEA is a nonprofit association existing to provide a strong unified voice with which it advocates the work-related interests of members. The attainment of association objectives will ensure a better life for our members and will attract and retain an effective, efficient state workforce to provide services for all Tennesseans. TSEA was established in 1974. For further information, visit the Web site at www.tseaonline.org.

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