City terminates finance employee
City of Sanibel accounts payable supervisor Frances Slane was terminated from her job on April 17 after she received a letter of notice of termination earlier in the week citing alleged infractions, including personal use of her work computer and improperly claiming time worked.
Slane is contesting the termination and has filed a lawsuit against each of the City of Sanibel and City Manager Judith Zimomra. She alleges the city’s action in terminating her employment is continued retaliation for actions including her decision to run for city council and a related lawsuit filed in state court.
A preliminary injunction hearing held in the U.S. Courthouse by District Judge Sheri Polster Chappell was Tuesday, April 21, but arguments were not heard due to a “writ of mootness” filed by the defense team.
Judge Polster Chappell allowed Slane’s attorney, William Amlong of Amlong Law Firm out of Ft. Lauderdale, until May 5, to attach an amendment to the preliminary injunction after the suggestion of mootness was filed.
Attorneys for the City of Sanibel and Zimomra, who are Hudson G. Gill and Michael R. Piper, sent in the motion saying with Slane’s employment being terminated Friday, April 17, and the motion for preliminary injunction was rendered “moot” by the Tuesday hearing.
But Amlong, argued the preliminary injunction was not moot because the City of Sanibel has not offered substantive and specific reasons for Slane’s termination.
Piper contended Amlong and Slane have the letter which details the reasons for termination, which is also in the official record, as well.
With the suggestion of mootness motion filed without much turnover time, Amlong asked the judge for a one-hour recess so he could make an amendment to add in Slane’s termination.
“Absolutely not,” Piper said after Judge Polster Chappell asked the defense team if they would approve.
Judge Polster Chappell then instructed Amlong to file a new amendment and that she was not going to grant another hearing, until she saw what was going to be in the amendment, which has a deadline of May 5.
“There will be a potential hearing after all the pleas have been filed,” Judge Polster Chappell said.
She also stated the Court would not be able to place Slane back to work for the City of Sanibel.
The court was ruled to be in recess until the judge had time to look over the new amended plea by Amlong.
Slane ran for City Council this past election period, in which she finished third out of three candidates seeking the two open seats. Chauncey Goss and incumbent Jim Jennings took the majority of the votes in the election, which was held Tuesday, March 10.
On March 20, Slane filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Sanibel and City Manager Judith Zimomra, alleging Zimomra retaliated against Slane for various reasons as stated in the Slane v. City of Sanibel Motion for temporary and preliminary injunction, including:
- “Exposed the mayor for lying about City Council travel expenses”.
- “Ran for City Council against an incumbent council member.”
- “Indicated the city’s recreation center is operating at a higher than projected budget.”
- “Sued the City of Sanibel in state court.”
Slane asserted Zimomra has also retaliated against her with several actions, including “placing her on administrative leave, suspending her without pay, threatening her with further discipline and micro-managing her at work.”
In the intent to terminate letter from acting Finance Director Steve Chaipel dated April 14, it gave three violations of Slane’s employment termination:
- Being previously suspended for three workdays for failure to adhere to professional ethical standards of conduct.
- From March 3, 2015 to April 3, 2015, repetitive and gross misuse of the City computer, including internet access, printer and City supplies for extended periods of time to engage in activities unrelated to job duties. “While on duty time, you have accessed the Internet for significant periods of time to gather information on persons for non-City related purposes.”
- Submitting timesheets during the period of March 3 through April 3, certifying Slane was “engaged in performing your assigned job responsibilities while you were engaged in frequent, repetitive and extensive misuse of the City’s Internet services and City equipment.”
Slane did attend the meeting Friday, April 17, with City of Sanibel officials. (Correction from original version)
The letter states: “You were given the opportunity to respond to the proposed termination in a meeting with me (Chaipel) on April 15, 2015, at 2 p.m. At that time, you provided the attached written response to the proposed termination action signed by your attorney, William Amlong. No other information was provided to address the charges against you.”
In Amlong’s letter to Chaipel, dated April 14, he writes: “As before, when the City sought to fire Ms. Slane in December in the early states of l’affaire Ruane, because of the short notice and long distance, it is impossible for me to be in Sanibel Wednesday, April 15, to accompany Ms. Slane to the predetermination hearing. This letter represents her response. She will have nothing to add. She is neither admitting anything by her silence, or being insubordinate. She is simply following the advice of counsel.”
In Amlong’s response to the City’s intent to terminate, dated April 14, he writes, “While Ms. Slane denies engaging in any improper behavior, and particularly between March 3 and April 3, 2015, she has absolutely no idea as to what conduct Mr. Chaipel’s letter refers.
Amlong cited four past cases about public employees’ dismissals and the rulings for the employee by reason of not citing why they were terminated from their jobs.
“Further, terminating Ms. Slane (or otherwise punishing her, even in the slightest) would violate her rights not only to due process, but also to freedom of speech – for which she is already suing both the City and its city manager, Judith Ann Zimomra”
The letter from Chaipel also states Slane still has an appeal left.
“You have the right to grieve this action, in writing, to the City Manager (Judith Zimomra). Your grievance, if any, must be received within three workdays from the receipt of this decision.”
The three workdays Slane had to file the administrative appeal with Zimomra started Monday, April 20. Zimomra said she has not received a written administrative appeal from Slane nor Amlong before or after the Wednesday, April 22, deadline.