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Fired worker deserves job, judge says

A former golf course employee who was fired after missing several days of work last year should be reinstated without back pay, a Florida administrative law judge has recommended.

Deborah Monley, a bartender and snack bar manager at the golf course, was fired Nov. 20 after her employers said she left work early one day in October and then took two days of vacation in November after being told she could not have the time off.

Monley appealed the firing, saying she left work early Oct. 30, 1996, to check on her ill son and file an injunction against an abusive ex-boyfriend. She also said the golf course manager had told her she was allowed to take off Nov. 14 and 17.

Administrative Law Judge David Maloney listened to both sides Aug. 29. His written recommendation is not binding, but the city's Civil Service Board, composed of five residents, will consider it when deciding the final penalty against Monley.

A date for that Civil Service Board hearing has not been set, personnel director Al Michetti said Friday. Michetti declined to comment on Maloney's recommendation.

Maloney said Monley should not have been punished for leaving work at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 30. She arrived early to take care of a morning golf group and then asked golf course assistant manager Michael Houllis whether she could leave to check on her 8-year-old son and file the injunction, which a police officer the night before recommended she get.

Houllis testified in August that he was trying to find someone to replace Monley when she abruptly left.

As a single parent and a victim of domestic violence, Monley should have been allowed to leave immediately, Maloney wrote.

"In fact, under the circumstances, the city should appreciate that she came to work at all that morning," he wrote.

Her absences in November, however, did amount to insubordination, Maloney decided. Her employers originally said there would be "no problem" giving her time off if they could find someone to cover for her, but problems arose in early November when another employee resigned.

Monley went to North Carolina anyway, leaving the golf course short-staffed, Maloney wrote.

Although dismissal is an "appropriate penalty" for insubordination, Maloney said it "seems a harsh result when all of the facts of the case are considered."

He recommended Monley be hired to a comparable position not at the golf course. The city has only six job classifications at the same level as Monley's old job, and three of those are at the golf course, Michetti said. None are vacant right now, he said.

Monley could not be reached for comments Friday. But her attorney, W. Newt Hudson of Tarpon Springs, said he will ask the Civil Service Board not only to rehire Monley but to give her back pay.

"We'll be arguing that the conclusions of law should be interpreted differently, that she shouldn't be subjected to any discipline and should be reinstated with back pay," Hudson said. "Of course, the city will argue differently.

"My position is he (Maloney) found that a suspension is warranted, but what this comes to is by the time the Civil Service Board hears it, it'll be a suspension of more than a year, and that doesn't seem quite fair to me," he said. "We timely requested a hearing and it's taken all this time due to no fault of my client."

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