Under the Dome

NC worker sues over loss of right to appeal job classification

A fired prison health-care official filed a lawsuit on Friday challenging a law passed last year that took away state employees' ability to appeal if their job is reclassified as exempt from civil service protections.

The lawsuit, filed in Wake County Superior Court by Joe Vincoli of Clemmons, challenges the constitutionality of the law. The former Department of Public Safety employee is already suing the state alleging he was fired in December because he blew the whistle on possible misuse of funds. The department had reclassified him as a manager and exempt from the State Personnel Act, which allowed him to be fired at will. He contends that was a pretext.

Last year the legislature passed a law giving Gov. Pat McCrory more power to hire and fire by allowing 1,500 positions exempt. Under Gov. Bev Perdue, about 400 positions were allowed to be exempt and she designed about 330 of them to fire at-will. McCrory had assigned close to 1,000 at-will as of about a year ago.

The General Assembly also repealed state law that allowed state employees to appeal if they thought their positions were improperly re-classified. Vincoli's lawsuit says that amounts to an unconstitutional taking of his property interest without due process.

The suit, filed by Raleigh attorney Michael C. Byrne, says under the new law a custodian could be designated as an exempt policy-maker or an office assistant as an exempt manager.

The law "permits McCrory and DPS to simply take away plaintiff's property at their whim, in an arbitrary and capricious manner, and without any procedural safeguards or compensation," Vincoli contends in the lawsuit.

Vincoli saved the state millions of dollars by pointing out examples of wasteful spending and lax oversight. State law was changed because of his efforts. Public safety agency officials, however, had warned Vincoli not to pursue whistleblowing involving other departments on his work time.