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Barr v. Lorain County Deptartment of Job and Family Services

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

June 28, 2019

BARBARA BARR Appellant
v.
LORAIN COUNTY DEPTARTMENT OF JOB AND FAMILY SERVICES Appellee

          APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 16CV190175

          BRENT L. ENGLISH, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          EUGENE NEVADA, Attorney at law, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          CARR, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Plaintiff-Appellant Barbara Barr appeals from the judgment of the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. This Court reverses and remands the matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I.

         {¶2} In 2014, Ms. Barr was employed by Defendant-Appellee the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services ("the Agency") as a clerical supervisor. At that time, she had worked for the Agency for over 20 years. As a clerical supervisor, Ms. Barr supervised four intake workers at the front desk. In addition, individuals referred to as W.E.P. workers worked for the Agency. These individuals were actually clients of the Agency who were required to work a certain number of hours for the Agency in order to receive public benefits. Ms. Barr also had W.E.P. workers under her supervision. One of those W.E.P. workers was P.R.

         {¶3} On April 1, 2014, Ms. Barr was removed from her position. Following pre-disciplinary conferences, at which time PR. provided a statement that was recorded, Ms. Barr was demoted to the position of data entry operator 2. This was a demotion in position and pay rate.

         {¶4} At the time of her demotion, Ms. Barr's son was addicted to heroin. Understandably, Ms. Barr was very concerned for her son's welfare. Inter alia, the Agency alleged that Ms. Barr involved PR. in these concerns and inappropriately used her work computer to look up an individual on a court website. With respect to the former allegation, on March 19, 2014, Ms. Barr asked P.R. if she recognized any phone numbers on a list, which contained numbers that Ms. Barr believed to be drug dealers and which Ms. Barr was considering turning over to the police. When P.R. indicated that she did recognize a number, Ms. Barr allegedly told P.R. to tell the person to not sell Ms. Barr's son drugs anymore. Later that day, someone called Ms. Barr's son and threatened their lives if Ms. Barr went to the police with the phone numbers. Ms. Barr then got in touch with P.R. and told P.R. to tell the person that Ms. Barr was not going to give the numbers to the police. The next day Ms. Barr requested that P.R. be reassigned allegedly both because someone had been making mistakes in the area where P.R. worked and because of the events the previous day.

         {¶5} Ms. Barr appealed the demotion to the State Personnel Board of Review ("SPBR"). A hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), at which P.R. did not testify, but her prior statement was played. The ALJ issued a report and recommendation, in which the ALJ made several findings and recommended that Ms. Barr's demotion be affirmed.

         {¶6} Ms. Barr filed objections to the ALJ's report and recommendation. SPBR heard oral argument and thereafter issued an order. SPBR adopted the findings of the ALJ but modified the ALJ's recommendation. SPBR concluded that:

The record reflects that Appellant misused her position for personal reasons. However, Appellant's actions must be counterbalanced with her many years of satisfactory service with Appellee in her position. Further, Appellant's rather unique and difficult personal circumstances that unquestionably impacted on her behavior in this matter seem unlikely to be repeated. Finally, if Appellant is prospectively restored to her former position or a comparably-ranked position/pay, she still will have paid a hefty monetary penalty for her actions. This should certainly sensitize her to the need to carefully and faithfully follow all of Appellee's practices and procedures going forward.
Wherefore, it is hereby ORDERED that Appellant's instant REDUCTION be MODIFIED to a FINE equivalent to the sum owed to Appellant representing the difference between her current pay and her back pay arising from restoration to her former classification of Clerical Supervisor, commencing from the effective date of the ...

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