Asheville – Covering the City of Asheville’s Civil Service Grievance Board hearing last week on the dismissal of five employees over the city’s COVID-19 policy, I was reminded of a series of Holiday Inn Express commercials.
In the commercials, the person staying at said hotel is endowed with special knowledge by virtue of staying at a Holiday Inn Express. The commercial wished to convey that people who stayed at the hotel were smart.
As I watched Asheville Lawyer Campbell Shatley preside over the hearing as the chairman of the grievance board, it was clear that she was biased toward the city’s side of the case. She continually upheld objections by Asheville’s legal representative John Maddux over that of the plaintiff’s attorney, Lakota Denton, when it was clear, even to me, a non-legal expert, that Denton had the right to ask those questions of the city’s two witnesses Buncombe County Public Health Director Stacey Saunders and Shannon Barrett, Asheville Human Resources Director.
In one obvious such example of her bias, Denton asked Barrett who was more likely to spread COVID, a vaccinated worker who goes out and attends concerts and restaurants all weekend, or an unvaccinated worker who has natural immunity. Maddux objected to the line of questioning to which Shatley sustained the objection.
Of course, Maddux objected. Barrett is not an expert in the healthcare field but in human resource management. However, Barrett had previously opened the door for such questioning from Denton in a prior statement when Barrett stated she believed had a less likely chance of spreading the virus. Why didn’t Maddux object when Barrent made that statement? He could object to Barrett making that statement even if she was his witness.
Asked to state the basis of the objection, Maddux said it was sustained and he was not going to explain it. Denton said he just needed to know where he made a mistake in asking his question. Shatley said that Barrett was not a medical expert but a human resources person. Denton pointed out that she just testified a vaccinated person was less likely to spread COVID. “…She opened the door” to that line of questioning, Denton explained. Shatley said, “And the objection is sustained!” This forced Denton to move on to other questions.
Shatley also belittled Denton when he raised a question about Shatley’s support of an objection by Maddux. Shatley told Denton she had been a litigation judge for more than 30 years. She also failed to allow Denton to produce any witnesses for the plaintiffs saying that the grievance law did not require the board to hear from them, only that the burden was on the city to show it had proven its burden of proof and therefore, she was dismissing the case. She also said that Denton could appeal to the superior court.
Denton said he didn’t want to be back in the grievance board after a superior court judge kicked the case back down for failure to allow the plaintiffs a proper defense. A statement that failed to change Shatley’s mind as she then asked for the board to be adjourned.
I have a feeling that the city’s grievance board will be back open for business once this goes to superior court and the judge sees what Shatley has done. Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night and it appears that Shatley did too.
Editor’s Note: Read related story Employee Dismissal Hearing Allows No Defense Witnesses on page 1.