Ex-county worker files lawsuit

WOODSTOCK – A former Shenandoah County official claims administrators violated her right to a pre-termination hearing when they forced her to quit in October.

Joyce Fadeley resigned Oct. 12 as zoning and subdivision administrator but said in a phone interview that county officials forced her to quit. Linden attorney Ronald D. Speakman represents Fadeley in the administrative appeal case that alleges county administrators coerced her resignation.

Documents filed in the Shenandoah County Circuit Court shed light on the situation from the perspectives of the plaintiff and the administration.

Melisa G. Michelsen, an attorney with Litten & Sipe, represents the county in the case. Michelsen states in a Nov. 17 letter to Judge Dennis L. Hupp that Fadeley signed a one-line statement indicating she resigned from employment with the county effective immediately. Michelsen notes that the county accepted the resignation letter but Fadeley now takes the position that she did not sign the document voluntarily. Michelsen asked the court to find that Fadeley resigned voluntarily and thus is not entitled to access to the grievance procedure.

County administrators asked Fadeley to attend a meeting Oct. 12. Fadeley thought County Administrator Mary T. Price and Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass wanted to discuss her recent application for zoning director. Fadeley arrived, at which point Price “swiftly and abruptly stated” to her that she had a letter of termination for her to read. Price slid the letter across the desk to Fadeley.

Upon reading the first sentence, Fadeley experienced fear and anxiety to the point where she felt she would vomit, according to the facts listed in the case.

“Her mental state continued to deteriorate because she knew that she had done nothing wrong to deserve this treatment yet was being treated in a demeaning, demoralizing and unprofessional manner,” the document states. “When she reasonably requested some type of explanation, another supervisor in the room, Mr. Vass, began screaming at her thus increasing her anxiety, fear and shock into what can only be described as a scene of extreme hostility.”

The document goes on to state that Price presented Fadeley with a preprinted resignation letter. Price stated that if she signed the letter, the county would not disclose her termination. Fadeley refused to sign the letter and requested she be allowed to go to her desk to make a phone call.

“The bullying and the intimidation continued with when Ms. Price and Mr. Vass told her that she was no longer allowed to go back to her desk to get her phone or anything else,” the document states. “Ms. Price stated that if she did not sign the pre-printed resignation letter, then the county would tell her future employers that Ms. Fadeley was terminated.

“Ms. Fadeley overcome with feelings of betrayal, nausea, claustrophobia from being confined in a bounded area, wished to regain her freedom,” the document continues. “With no means of financial support, being single, and over the age of 50, Ms. Fadeley reluctantly signed the pre-printed letter of resignation under extreme duress and coercion by two employees of the county.”

Price stopped Fadeley when she tried to leave and then escorted her out of the building. Price told Fadeley she could return to the building at 5 p.m. to retrieve her belongings under the administrator’s escort.

Fadeley served Price a written notice on Oct. 30,  a request to grieve her termination per the county’s personnel policy. Price denied Fadeley’s request.

The complaint states that a voluntary resignation does not present a grievable issue. However, a resignation procured by fraud, coercion or duress makes it  forced or contrived, not voluntary.

“Ms. Prices’ decision to deny Ms. Fadeley a grievance is an egregious abuse of her power as a government official,” the complaint states. “(Price’s) conduct is unconscionable and questionable. She bullied Ms. Fadeley into tendering a resignation she authored yet does not have the incite (sic) or awareness to see where she orchestrated this event, as an excuse for denying Ms. Fadeley the opportunity to grieve her termination.”

Fadeley did not have reasonable time to choose to resign because she already was terminated, the complaint states. The county violated Fadeley’s constitutional rights when she was denied a pre-termination hearing, the complaint goes on to state.

Background information provided by the county notes that Fadeley had received several disciplinary actions and unsatisfactory performance discussions since 2016. Recent events in September and October 2017 triggered another review of Fadeley’s performance and position with the county. Price and Vass reviewed Fadeley’s employment and determined that numerous and documented examples of unsatisfactory job performance would lead to the determination of termination. The case file included a letter the administrators provided to Fadeley outlining the performance issues discussed at the meeting. Fadeley offered counterpoints, disputed the county’s conclusions, shifted blame and tried to categorize her failures to follow specific directives or her inappropriate behavior as simple misunderstandings, the response states.

Michelsen contends that the Virginia Personnel Act and cases cited by Speakman do not apply to county employees.