In North Carolina, Sheriff’s Employees Are Not County Employees

When Daniel Bailey was elected to the office of Sheriff of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, he immediately fired Deputy Sheriff Terri Young, who had failed to contribute to Bailey’s election campaign. Young sued, citing a North Carolina statute that “no county employee may be required as a duty or condition of employment, promotion, or tenure of office to contribute funds for political or partisan purposes.” The statute defines a “county employee” as “any person employed by a county or any department or program thereof that is supported, in whole or in part, by county funds.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed Young’s lawsuit, concluding that she was not a “county employee” covered by the statute. The Court noted that “Young contends that the statute’s protections apply to her because the Sheriff’s Office is financed through the county, is integral to and a part of the county, and thus is a program or department of the county. Defendants acknowledge that the Sheriff’s Office receives funding and other support from the county in the form of salaries, insurance, and so forth, but argue that funding is not the determining factor and that the mere fact of funding does not establish that a sheriff’s office is a department or program of a county. Contending instead that a sheriff’s office is independent of county government, defendants argue the statute does not apply to Young.

“The office of the sheriff, one of great antiquity, is established in North Carolina by our constitution. The sheriff is elected by the people, and alone is responsible for carrying out his or her official duties. In addition, the sheriff has singular authority over his or her deputies and employees and is responsible for their actions. Under North Carolina law, each sheriff has the exclusive right to hire, discharge, and supervise the employees in his office. While certain county officials have the power to hire and fire county employees, a county government lacks hiring, supervisory, and firing authority over deputy sheriffs.

“In light of the distinct demarcation between county government and the office of the sheriff, we conclude that a sheriff’s office is not a program or department of a county and that a deputy sheriff or employee of a sheriff’s office is not a county employee. Because a sheriff’s office is not a program or department of a county, the fact that the sheriff’s office receives funds therefrom is of no moment. As a result, Young is not covered by the statute and her suit brought under that statute fails.”

Young v. Bailey, 2016 WL 363556 (N.C. 2016).