Despite three rulings that she was unjustly fired for political reasons and $114,000 in legal costs to taxpayers, the Mississippi Department of Transportation is continuing to fight rehiring former employee Shirley Rutland.
"This was absolutely atrocious — the worst personnel decision I've ever seen," said Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, one of three elected MDOT policymakers. "She's won at every level, and we'll have to pay all her back pay with interest, but still they're fighting it. These other two yahoos (elected Northern and Southern transportation commissioners) just sit there and do nothing."
Rutland, Hall's assistant, was fired by MDOT Director Butch Brown, Hall's political archenemy, whom Hall once had fired. Hall and Rutland allege, and so far an employee board and two courts have agreed, Brown fired Rutland as payback to Hall and because she was writing news releases that listed Hall as chairman of the commission, which he was at the time. Hall says Brown created an "External Affairs" division to handle news releases so he could thwart Hall getting good publicity about MDOT projects.
But Brown denies this. He says Rutland, whose husband is his cousin, was fired for being "disruptive," circumventing MDOT procedure and "spending time doing (Hall's) campaign work" instead of her MDOT duties. Brown said External Affairs, which has recently been changed to the "Outreach Division," was created to better manage MDOT communications.
Rutland declined to comment for this story on advice of her lawyer. Hall and Brown have for years made it no secret they despise each other.
In 2003, Hall had Brown fired, in a 2-1 vote of the commission. But after an election changed the commission’s makeup, Brown was rehired in a 2-1 vote. Since then Hall has said he is odd man out — with Brown and the other two commissioners ostracizing him. He claimed Brown had him banished, literally, from MDOT headquarters, moving him to a trailer far away from the downtown office because of "renovations."
Court records show Brown was in the process of having Rutland fired in 2003 when Hall instead had him fired. When Brown returned, he fired Rutland in early 2004.
Rutland appealed to the Mississippi Employee Appeals Board, which ordered her reinstated with back pay. MDOT appealed this decision to Hinds County Circuit Court, which also ruled in Rutland's favor. MDOT appealed that decision to the state Court of Appeals, which recently also ruled in Rutland's favor.
The agency has now asked for a rehearing before the court, which has yet to rule on that request.
As a "non-state service" employee, Rutland is not covered by the state Personnel Board and can by law be fired, without notice, for any reason other than "on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability or political affiliation . . . "
The appellate court ruled: "We find that the decision . . . finding Rutland's termination to be politically motivated, is supported by substantial evidence and must be afforded deference by this court." It affirmed the ruling that Rutland should be reinstated to her position as Hall's assistant, with back pay and benefits, and that all costs of the appeal be assessed to MDOT.
They said it
“Rutland testified that . . . Brown asked her for whom she worked. When Rutland stated that she worked for Hall, Brown became enraged and according to Rutland stated: 'The Bible says that you can only serve one master, and around here, I'm the G-d d----- master, that son-of-a-b---- Hall does not run this agency.' ” — from Mississippi Court of Appeals record
“That's totally untrue. I remember in one conversation I said you have to decide who your boss is here, you can't work for the department and the commission. I said that even in the Bible it says man can only serve one master. I was just stating the one-man, one-boss principle of management.” — MDOT Director Butch Brown, who called fired employee Rutland's testimony that he used curse words and claimed he was the master is "absurd."
“I've never seen anybody like (Butch Brown). His ego wouldn't fit in Madison Square Garden. He rules by fear. That's his management style, and all the employees know it. They all know why Shirley was fired, and the morale is horrible.” — Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall