Judge rules University of Alaska firing improper

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FAIRBANKS - A judge has ruled the University of Alaska failed to follow its own regulations and improperly fired an employee in 2008.

Superior Court Judge Michael MacDonald found that Yauna Taylor was wrongly terminated from her job as an administrative assistant at the Tanana Valley Campus Culinary Arts Department.

Taylor was given a notice of nonretention on April 3, 2008. The university later cited reasons that included "lack of professionalism," "lack of responsiveness to clear expectations" and "resistance to correction action."

Her employment was terminated without cause on four weeks' notice.

Taylor, who said she had a clean personnel record, argued she was entitled to a "for cause" termination hearing because she had been fired for disciplinary reasons. She said the nonretention procedure, which doesn't include the same due process for terminated employees, was incorrectly used.

Taylor said the nonretention approach, which is supposed to be used for reasons that include financial or administrative considerations, has evolved into a broader method for firing employees.

"The way they're using it is just absurd," Taylor said. "It's obvious just how wrong it is."

MacDonald agreed with Taylor, ruling the university had improperly interpreted its own regulations for terminating employees.

MacDonald said the school's claim that employees like Taylor are subject to "nonretention at will" is "an unreasonable interpretation of the regulations."

Since Taylor was terminated for disciplinary reasons, MacDonald said she should have had access to the same due process that "for cause" firings receive. By improperly firing her using the nonretention process, she was denied that route, his ruling said.

Taylor, 28, is due an unspecified amount of back pay, which will be determined at future hearings.

Both University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers and former university President Mark Hamilton approved the termination procedure, which led Taylor to challenge it in Superior Court.

University officials said they are reviewing the ruling but have not decided whether to appeal.

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