City appeals wrongful termination ruling

ALBANY -- The city is appealing a superior court judge's ruling that reinstated a fired Albany firefighter who challenged the city's personnel policy.

Joseph Pait was fired by former Chief James Arrowwood and then-Deputy Chief James Carswell in 2004. Pait sued the city claiming wrongful termination, and on Jan. 5 Chief Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette issued an order reinstating Pait and supporting his claim.

Assistant City Manager Wes Smith wouldn't comment on the details of the appeal but said the city's legal team feels there is a basis for their decision.

"Upon review by legal staff and our outside attorneys, they believe that the ruling in this case was not appropriate and that we would let the wheels of justice continue to roll," Smith said.

The city is asking the Georgia Court of Appeals to stay Lockette's order -- which demanded that the city reinstate Pait with all of the benefits and pay increases that he would have earned had he been employed since his termination.

The city fired Pait after he reached a deal with prosecutors in Lee County to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of theft. He was sentenced to probation and given first-offender status which, in Georgia, means that upon successful completion of Pait's sentence that his record would be cleared and he would no longer be considered having been convicted of any crime.

Pait's attorney used that to successfully argue that the city violated its own personnel policy -- which allows termination if a person is "convicted" of a felony, not a misdemeanor.

Pait also relied on a recent Georgia Supreme Court ruling in another wrongful termination suit from Albany that determined department heads, but not their subordinates, are "at-will" employees and are subject to termination at any time.