Most North Carolina "career state employees" enjoy strong job protections. In most cases, they can't be fired or demoted unless the decision to do so is supported by "just cause." This protection is significant, because the North Carolina Supreme Court has defined "just cause" as a "flexible concept, embodying notions of equity and fairness." This standard, combined with the State's burden to prove the existence of just cause, can make disciplinary actions hard to uphold.
Procedural hurdles, however, make enforcement of just cause protections a challenge. State employees must "exhaust" their administrative remedies through internal grievance procedures with tight and unforgiving deadlines. In most cases, an employee must initiate the internal grievance process within 15 days. That is an extremely short deadline, with the potential to slam shut the courthouse doors.
I was recently reviewing "just cause" decisions regarding North Carolina Career State Employees from the Office of Administrative Hearings and came across a familiar name. I recognized the (former) employee as someone who had sought a consultation regarding discipline imposed upon them. The case at OAH had been summarily dismissed for failing to exhaust administrative remedies through the career state employees grievance process provided for in the State Human Resources Act (SHRA). Curious, and unable to remember the specific details, I reviewed old communications and found that even without knowing the specifics of the case, I had advised them in writing at least twice to make sure that they proceeded with a timely internal grievance. Apparently the advice was not followed and the individual in question was unable to have her case heard on its merits.
Don't make the same mistake! The single easiest way to kill what could be a strong case is to ignore the grievance procedure of your agency or school (Universities have their own grievance procedures). Even the best lawyer in the world cannot save the case of a North Carolina career state employee who does not preserve their case by exhausting the remedies available through the grievance process.
Edelstein & Payne has experience successfully assisting North Carolina Career State Employees to challenge disciplinary actions through the grievance and hearing process. If you have been fired or demoted from your SHRA job and would like to discuss your rights and potential remedies, fill out out employment law intake form. But first make sure you are familiar with all your deadlines!