County-court worker's termination was unjust, appeals court rules

By Charmaine Little | Nov 30, 2018

KANSAS CITY — An appeals court determined that a woman was unjustly fired from her job at the Circuit Court of Jefferson County.

After receiving a dismissal letter from her employer, the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, plaintiff Sharon Hickman requested a pre-termination hearing, where defendant Michael Reuter, who had been elected Clerk of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, confirmed his decision to fire her.

She appealed with Presiding Judge Robert Wilkins of the county, who referred the appeal to the Circuit Court Budget Committee (CCBC). The budget committee organized a Dismissal Review Committee (DRC) with circuit court judges, and the DRC ruled that Hickman’s termination was unreasonable and without just cause.

Reuter appealed in the Cole County Circuit Court, which reversed the budget committee's decision. Now Hickman has appealed, and the Missouri Court of Appeals in the Western District reversed the circuit court’s decision, agreeing with the original budget committee decision that there was no just reason in firing Hickman.

According to the appeals court, the CCBC had determined that Hickman’s job performance was always viewed favorably from when she first got the job in November 2011 until she was transferred to the Traffic Division in July 2015.

Around that time, Hickman also got carpal tunnel syndrome. Still, there was no indication that her condition prevented her from being able to learn the position except for her request for light responsibilities.

Hickman took the initiative to learn her new position by shadowing coworkers and taking notes, the court ruling said.

She was never given proper training such as via video or a written manual on how to do the job effectively, the court said, and determined that the CCBC had been correct in ruling that Reuther’s decision to fire Hickman was unjust.

Judge Mark D. Pfeiffer authored the opinion and Alok Ahuja and Thomas H. Newton concurred.

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