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UCI HEALTH SERGEANT REINSTATED WITH ALL PAY, BENEFITS, SENIORITY, AND ALL OTHER RIGHTS

In May of 2015, Sergeant Jim Crofts was terminated from the University of California Irvine Health for what was labeled “Substandard Work Performance.” Crofts, a 27-year employee with UCI, had an exemplary career with the University’s security department, with uniformly good evaluations. In order to fight this termination, Crofts hired the law firm of CASTILLO HARPER, APC.

Three years prior to his termination, the University hired a new Administrative Manager. This manager was to “increase the skills of all officers and address deficiencies in the program.” During the first year, the manager provided Crofts with complimentary evaluations, with comments regarding his excellent supervisory skills. However, subsequently, the manager began to document other than perfect performance.

Crofts began to receive “letters of warning,” which are similar to a letter of counselling, however UCI Health viewed them as reprimands. During the following two-year period, Crofts received a total of five (5) of such letters. Upon receipt, Crofts signed the letters and went on about doing his job. UCI Health used these letters to show a continuing decline in work performance, but did not want to “re-litigate” the allegations. The defense team at CASTILLO HARPER, APC brought forward the fact that the letters included unrelated minor issues that could generally be dealt with in a conversation. In fact, one of the letters stated that Crofts should have acted in a certain manner, which would have been in direct conflict with UCI’s own policy.

Moreover, CASTILLO HARPER, APC brought to light the fact that Crofts had not received an evaluation for more than two years. Just one month before he was provided with the Notice of Intent to Terminate, Crofts received two years of evaluations. The evaluations were provided to him in December of 2015 and reflected the evaluation for the calendar years of 2013 and 2014. The evaluations were overall good, however, there were some areas marked as deficient. These areas were marked and dated by the manager in November of 2015, just one month prior to providing them to Crofts, and one to two years after the evaluation period ended. Besides being untimely, these late evaluations failed to provide any reason for the so-called deficient areas, how to correct them, or even provide time to make such corrections. The following month, January 2016, Crofts was provided with the Notice of Intent to Terminate.

The final incident for which Crofts was allegedly terminated involved communication with the oncoming shift. The manager determined that there was a failure to pass along information, however, he refused to take into consideration that the information was not available to Crofts to pass along until sometime after the shift change occurred. Also not considered was that when Crofts did become aware of the information, the involved officer had already informed the oncoming shift supervisor. The incident included video of a subject that was thought to be connected with a safety report (BOLO) from a sister facility. Other than the person being African American and male, there were no other similarities to connect him with the BOLO. The manager’s own boss could not confirm a connection with the person in the video and the BOLO. Nevertheless, the manager concluded that this was the final act of Croft’s so-called “substandard performance” and sought termination.

The Hearing Officer who presided over this matter was not fooled by UCI Health’s attempt to disparage a long-term employee. Despite the fact that managers for UCI Health could see no connection with the person in the video and the BOLO, there were inconsistencies in testimony. Initially, personnel from Human Resources testified that that they did nothing with regards to investigating the BOLO incident. The Human Resources director first testified that she had no involvement in the investigation, yet mid-hearing, changed her testimony as to being involved with the termination investigation, which she stated was solely based on the BOLO incident. When called again on rebuttal by the University, the HR Director again changed her testimony, telling the Hearing Officer that she was “confused.” Additionally, UCI Health had issues as to when the charges against Crofts were sustained. It was obvious that the decision to terminate was pretextual and without just cause.

The Hearing Officer determined that the final letter of warning regarding the BOLO incident was the deciding factor in determining whether UCI Health met its burden by a preponderance of the evidence in properly terminating Crofts for substandard performance. His final analysis was that this was a very simple case, and the evidence adduced at the hearing simply did not support the allegations concerning the BOLO incident, which was the final event on which UCI Health relied as the basis for termination. It was clear from the testimony that the discipline in this incident was based primarily on an incorrect assumption that Crofts was aware of the presence of the potential BOLO subject on the grounds of UCI.

Rightfully, the discipline was overturned and UCI Health was ordered to reinstate Crofts to his former position and make him whole. The Hearing Officer noted that the sudden dramatic change in the documentation regarding Crofts raised concerns about the manager’s objectivity. He was also troubled that the documents were not promptly provided to Crofts, as the general acceptance is that discipline should be administered promptly in order to be effective. More significantly, the Hearing Officer noted that the prior incidents of discipline concerned unrelated and relatively minor allegations of performance that raised a question about the propriety of the level of discipline imposed in UCI Health’s final letter of warning and Notice of Intent to Terminate. Additionally, UCI Health did not utilize the sort of progressive discipline that precede dismissal, as provided for in its own policy.

The Hearing Officer ordered that UCI Health (1) rescind the notice of dismissal and expunge it from Crofts personnel records, (2) reinstate Crofts to his former position of sergeant, and (3) make Crofts whole for all pay, benefits, seniority, and other rights that he would have received, but for the improper termination of his employment. The employment defense team at CASTILLO HARPER, APC was honored to represent Jim Crofts in overturning this injustice, and wish him the best moving forward.

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