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2 state workers' dismissals for drunken driving reversed


ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's highest court this week reinstated two state employees fired in 1990 for violating a Schaefer administration substance-abuse order after they were convicted

in unrelated off-the-job drunken-driving cases.

Daniel Coles and Charlene Dashiell had been fired even though their direct-care jobs at the Holly Center, a facility for the developmentally disabled in Salisbury, were not designated as "sensitive positions" covered by the governor's April 1989 executive order until January 1990, months after their arrests.

Maryland's Court of Appeals, in a June 23 decision written by Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, concluded that the dismissals were improper for that reason.

The two former employees now are entitled to reclaim their old jobs and collect between $30,000 and $40,000 each in back pay, said William Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The state had argued that the two employees should have known their jobs would be among some 17,000 to be designated as "sensitive" and subject to the governor's substance-abuse directive.

But Judge Murphy wrote that the firings "were essentially arbitrary and capricious," adding, "no reasoning mind could have reached the secretary (of personnel's) conclusion."

The unanimous ruling reversed decisions of the state's Office of Administrative Hearings, the Department of Personnel and the Wicomico County Circuit Court.

Mr. Coles, 31, who had worked at the Holly Center for seven years, said that he has worked as a nurse's aide and in produce delivery since being fired, but that he intended to take back his higher-paying state job.

He said he had liked the work at the Holly Center, felt he was doing a good job there and was upset about being fired.

"I was real mad about it. I didn't feel what I was doing had anything to do with my job performance," he said. "If I came to work impaired, that would be something different. But it never happened like that."

The governor's get-tough executive order called for people convicted of drug or alcohol abuse to be fired, even first-time offenders. Under pressure from unions and the legislature, the order was modified in April 1991 to permit first-time offenders to be referred to employee-assistance programs, for second-time offenders to be suspended for five days and for dismissal to apply only to three-time losers.

AFSCME representatives argued there was no connection between Mr. Coles' and Ms. Dashiell's drunken-driving arrests and their job performances. Ms. Dashiell had worked at the Holly Center for 25 years. She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The unions also contended there was geographical discrimination because local newspapers on the Eastern Shore printed the names of those convicted of drunken driving, while more numerous DWI cases in metropolitan areas such as Baltimore probably went undetected by employee supervisors.

Holly Center officials testified that they had learned of Mr. Coles' conviction by scanning the local newspaper.

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