Demoted employee reinstated after secret meeting ruled invalid
TENNESSEE–In mid-September, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville voided the demotion of a 911 system supervisor because the county board which oversees 911 operations made its decision in a meeting that was not open to the public.
The court held that the 911 Board fit the definition of “governing body” as described in the Open Meetings Act and that “all meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times.” According to the Court, any actions taken by the board at an improperly closed meeting would be given no effect.
The decision came in a lawsuit filed by Edna Forbes against the Wilson County 911 Board. A 911 system supervisor since the creation of the system in 1991, Forbes was diagnosed with cancer in March 1993. She underwent emergency surgery and recuperated at home for approximately six weeks. In May 1993, the day before she was to return to her job, she received a certified letter from the Board informing her that she had been demoted from full-time supervisor to part-time operator. As a result, Forbes said she suffered a physical relapse, embarrassment and other stress-related problems.
Forbes sued the 911 Board claiming that the board violated the Open Meetings Act and state laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled. At trial, the jury found that the board made its decision regarding Forbes at a closed session. The trial court awarded Forbes nearly $500,000 in back pay, damages for humiliation and embarrassment as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.
The board appealed. Based on the facts contained in the trial record, the appeals court affirmed the judgment of the trial court holding that the board violated the Open Meetings Act, making Forbes’s demotion void.
Forbes has been reinstated and the case has been remanded to the trial court to determine the proper amount of damages the board must pay to compensate Forbes. (Forbes v. Wilson County 911 Board; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Martin Behm, Anne Martin, Nashville)