On Monday, firm partner Travis Payne argued a mandamus petition in Forsythe County on behalf of our client, a Kernersville firefighter, who was fired and then denied access to unredacted copies of documents used to support his firing. Citing an important 2013 court case, Wind vs. City of Gastonia (for which he drafted an amicus curiae brief), Attorney Payne successfully argued that records related to our client's discipline is not subject to the disclosure exemptions for employment records. Although the final order is pending, the City has indicated an inclination to appeal the ruling. The City will also be required to provide the client with a new grievance hearing.
A writ of mandamus is a court order to a public official directing them to do their job. To obtain a writ in North Carolina, the Plaintiff/Petitioner must satisfy these elements:
- The party seeking relief must demonstrate a clear legal right to the act requested.
- The defendant must have a legal duty to perform the act requested, and the duty must be clear and not reasonably debatable.
- Performance of the duty-bound act must be ministerial in nature and not involve the exercise of discretion.
- The defendant must have neglected or refused to perform the act requested, and the time for performance must have expired.
- There must be no alternative, legally adequate remedy available (the court may only issue a writ of mandamus in the absence of such a remedy).
In this case, the trial judge agreed with Attorney Payne that our client was entitled to his unredacted personnel records, that the City had a duty to provide them and did not have discretion to refuse and that there was no way, other than a court order, to obtain them.
Here is a link to a Winston-Salem Journal article published about the case on Monday.
Most public employees are entitled to a full and complete copy of their personnel records, which includes records of communications regarding the worker such as emails, texts, memos, etc. If you are a public employee involved in an employment dispute, it is a good idea to make a specific request for your personnel file, in writing. We are available for consultation and representation on a variety of employment law issues- schedule a meeting by completing the form on our employment law page.