Shortly after assuming the office of Sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia, Victor Hill sent notices summarily terminating the employment of 27 employees of the Sheriff’s Office. Hill took the position that the employees were not entitled to the protections of the Clayton County Civil Service System.
Two of the 27 employees challenged their discharges, alleging that they were entitled to Civil Service protections. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the employees.
The Court described a Georgia system under which “local constitutional amendments” are passed that apply only to individual counties. The Court pointed to a Clayton County constitutional amendment providing that “all positions within the following offices are subject to and covered by the Civil Service System: . . . sheriffs.” The next section of the local constitutional amendment expressly excluded from civil service coverage “elected officials.”
The Court read these two clauses together to produce the result that while the elected sheriff is not subject to the civil service system, “those occupying positions in its office are.” Since the Civil Service law provides that the employees can only be dismissed for just cause, the Court ruled in favor of the employees.
A dissenting judge argued that the Sheriff should be entitled to fire employees without just cause, and that the Civil Service system only applied to “County employees” and not “employees of the elected officials of the County.”
Hill v. Watkins, 2006 WL 452663 (Ga. 2006).
This article appears in the April 2006 issue