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US Court of Appeals rules in favor of county in worker's case
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CHICAGO - Sheila Schulz does not have a property interest in her job as a juvenile intake worker attached to the Green County Circuit Court, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled July 20, affirming a May 2010 district court summary judgment.

According to court records, the U.S. District Court granted the summary judgment in favor of Green County because the county's Board of Supervisors eliminated the position in connection with "a legitimate governmental reorganization" in December 2008. The position ended Dec. 31, 2008.

In the appellate court analysis of the case, Circuit Court Judge William J. Bauer wrote, "... an employee has a constitutionally protected property interest in a given position - not in her employment or a particular wage - and once the government abolishes the position, the employee has nothing in which she can claim an entitlement."

Schulz had argued that her position was not "abolished in fact" because a new position, a social worker I/II, created within the Human Services department during the reorganization was very similar.

Schultz was hired for the new position, after the county posted the position, as per its bargaining agreement with the union, and no union employee applied for the new position.

The new position no longer required Schulz to supervise others and paid an hourly rate of $19.28 - about $7.75 less per hour than the court-attached position.

But Schultz contended the similarities entitled her to due process, under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

The appellate court found the focus on similarities was "misplaced."

"The relevant question is whether the governmental reorganization was a pretext for harming Schultz," Bauer wrote. " ... the evidence before us indicates that the county reorganized to save costs, not to rid itself of Schulz; had the County reorganized merely to terminate Schulz's employment, its decision to rehire Schulz for the social worker I/II position would be inexplicable."

Brian Bucholtz, corporate counsel for Green County, said the appellate court was correct in upholding the district court's decision.

"The county made the decision (in 2008) to reorganize to save money and to expand coverage of juvenile-intake," he said Tuesday.

Moving juvenile-intake to the Human Services department, where "there are more people to cover the intake duties, not just one or two," allowed the county to reach its goal of providing 24-hour on-call services, he said.

State statutes requires a juvenile intake worker be available 24 hours a day. Because of its small size, Green County has the option of providing the service through the circuit court, the Human Services Department, or both.

Green County's general insurance policy covered the legal expenses, except for the $10,000 deductible amount, which "was paid out a long time ago," Bucholtz said. The insurance company hired its own defense attorney, he added.

The civil case began in 2009 in federal district court.

Schulz vacated her position in early June for a job in another county, and the position has been refilled by an employee within the department, according to Greg Holcomb, director of Green County Human Services.

Schulz served as the Green County chief juvenile-intake worker from 1997 to 2008. She had spent six years as a social worker in Green County's Children, Youth and Family Unit.