City fights order to award full back pay in Jack case
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
Sept. 11, 2003
The city of Meridian has asked Circuit Judge Robert Bailey to reconsider his order awarding full back pay to police officer Rita Jack.
The senior patrol officer was fired in September 2001 amid allegations that she and a civilian accomplice stole money and checks from the police station's front desk.
The charges never resulted in Jack's arrest or indictment, or in any civil recovery demand, and she appealed her termination to the Meridian Civil Service Commission.
The CSC ordered Jack's reinstatement in August 2002 and directed the city of Meridian to award her back pay retroactive to her termination date of Sept. 14, 2001.
City officials did not, however, reinstate her preferring instead to appeal the CSC's decision to Lauderdale County Circuit Court.
Bailey affirmed the CSC's ruling on Aug. 25.
The question of back pay
City officials decided not to fight Bailey on Jack's reinstatement and she is back on the job.
They do, however, take issue with the decision to award her full back pay.
City attorney Lee Thaggard, in both his initial appeal and a recent motion for rehearing, said the CSC was required to "mitigate" any financial award.
What this means is that any income Jack earned, or reasonably should have earned, during the time she was terminated should be deducted from her back pay.
The conflict between the city and the judge comes down to the question of whether the Civil Service Commission had the authority to award full back pay.
Thaggard says it didn't and hangs his hat on a 1980 Mississippi Supreme Court case, Eidt vs. City of Natchez.
Bailey says it did and hangs his hat on Mississippi statute itself.
Precedent vs. statute
Thaggard says the judge has misinterpreted the Eidt decision. The case also involved the wrongful termination, and later reinstatement, of a city employee. In this situation, the high court supported awarding back pay but said the damages must be mitigated.
Thaggard said the decision cleared up any question, if there was a question, about what is required under state law.
The crux of Thaggard's argument seems to be that the Eidt decision set a precedent binding future civil service commissions and, if necessary, circuit court judges.
Bailey noted in his Aug. 25 order that the Mississippi Supreme Court required mitigation in the Eidt case. But he said mitigation is not mandatory under state law the same law Thaggard cited.
Attorney David Linder, who represents Jack, said the law doesn't say anything about mitigation.
The next step in what has become a two-year process is a hearing before Judge Bailey. It has been set for Sept. 25 at 2:30 p.m.
If city officials lose again, their next option is an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.