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January 2, 2013

Judge rules to reinstate Scott as DSS director

TARBORO — Marva Scott, who was terminated as director of the Edgecombe County Department of Social Services (DSS) last Feb. 29, has her job back.

On Dec. 20, A North Carolina Administrative Law Judge Augustus B. Elkins II ruled that Scott, be reinstated after he failed to find “just cause” for Scott’s termination.  The case in question was whether Scott “intentionally bent rules for at least one of [her] church members, to-wit, encouraging C.B. to apply for a position, “Social Worker II,” after the deadline of the posting period had closed, allowing the application to be considered after the posting period, and then selecting C.B. over qualified applicants that submitted their applications in a timely manner.”

The final decision by summary judgment stated that Scott had no role in the selection of the employee for the position except for “signing off” on the interview team’s decision, which was her practice in the hiring of all candidates for open positions in the department. The document also stated that the applicant was a member of the Goldsboro church where Scott was a greeter, but that the two were only acquaintances, and that Scott did not encourage the person to apply for any particular position.

Elkins also ordered the award of attorneys’ fees in the amount of $62,750 to Scott by the respondents (social services board, county commissioners and County Manager Lorenzo Carmon). The decision came after a hearing that was conducted on Dec. 4.

“Mrs. Scott was terminated by the DSS board in February and we’ve been going through legal proceedings,” Carmon said. “We’re in the process of appealing the judge’s ruling.”

Carmon and the DSS board have 30 days from the time of receiving the judge’s ruling to appeal the decision. Carmon said he and the board are appealing because the ruling was made without a trial involving the testimonies of witnesses and they “don’t think that’s quite right.”

“There will not be a trial absent a reversal of the Office of Administrative Hearings’ decision, on appeal,” said Scott’s lawyer, Kyle Nutt, of Shipman & Wright L.L.P., in Wilmington.

Carmon assumed Scott’s duties, as the interim director of DSS, on Dec. 19, 2011, and he remains in that position. He assumed full authority over DSS at the same time as the DSS board sent Scott a disciplinary letter, suspending her without pay for 30 days.

“The board has chosen not to recruit [for a new director] waiting for the outcome of this personnel matter,” Carmon said. Carmon conducted an investigation of Scott from December 2011 until the time of her termination in February 2012.

“After being kept away from her duties for over one year, a court has determined that, after the Board of Social Services withdrew six of the seven allegations against her, the remaining allegation against Mrs. Scott was not a basis for disciplinary action and in any event was not grounds for her termination,” Nutt stated. “The Court also noted that Mrs. Scott was not contacted for her version of the events during the investigation, nor did the two-month investigation even result in the production of a tangible report.”

Scott formally appealed her suspension and the board informed her in a letter dated Jan. 9, 2012, that she was being reinstated with full pay but that her suspension would continue, according to the summary judgment. On Feb. 23, the board informed Scott by letter of their intention to terminate her, stating seven grounds as “just cause” for her termination. The DSS board and Carmon removed from consideration five of those grounds prior to the Dec. 4 hearing and conceded that one of the two remaining grounds was not “just cause” for her termination. The first indication of disciplinary action against Scott was a letter that Larry Dewitt Woodley, former chair of the DSS board, sent to her on May 2, 2011, in which he alleged her conduct at an April 18 board meeting consisted of her “speaking in an extremely loud and boisterous tone which was directed at the board chair, Larry Woodley, and Commisioner Viola Harris.”

In his Dec. 20 ruling, Elkins not only ordered that Scott be hired back at the same rate of pay but also that she be compensated the pay she would have been entitled dating back to her termination. Carmon did not give an exact figure for Scott’s salary but said it was “somewhere between $70,000 and $80,000.”

“Mrs. Scott looks forward to the opportunity to get back to work serving the people of

Edgecombe County and maintaining the success the Department of Social Services has

experienced under her leadership,” Nutt said in a concluding statement. “Mrs. Scott hopes to resume her duties without further distraction from these issues and hopes the county and board of Social Services will abide by the Court’s ruling without further cost to the people of Edgecombe County.”

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