August 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Amendment to C.R.S. § 30-10- 506 Largely Preserves At-Will Employment Doctrine for Deputy Sheriffs

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office v. Cummings on Thursday, September 6, 2018.

Employment Termination—Wrongful Discharge—Implied Contract of Employment—Summary JudgmentInterlocutory AppealSheriff’s Policies—CRS § 30-10-506.

Cummings was a deputy sheriff in Arapahoe County. The Sheriff terminated Cummings’ employment, asserting that he violated the Sheriff’s employee manual (the Manual) and was dishonest during the investigation of the original charges against him. Cummings exhausted his remedies within the Sheriff’s department and sued for (1) wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, and (2) breach of an implied contract of employment, based on the policies in the Manual. The Sheriff moved to dismiss the wrongful termination claim based on governmental immunity, and the district court dismissed the claim with prejudice. The district court denied the Sheriff’s motion to dismiss the implied contract claim, and the Sheriff moved for summary judgment. The district court denied the motion for summary judgment, holding that there was an implied contract of employment and disputed issues of material fact existed. The Sheriff brought an interlocutory appeal under C.A.R. 42 challenging the denial of summary judgment.

On appeal, the Sheriff contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion for summary judgment. He argued that the at-will employment concept in C.R.S. § 30-10-506 requires the court to hold that all policies promulgated by a sheriff relating to termination of deputy sheriffs’ employment are only precatory, and to conclude otherwise would mean that the sheriff lacks the power to terminate at-will employees. C.R.S. § 30-10-506 requires a sheriff to promulgate written employment policies, and the sheriff must give deputies the rights of notice and opportunity to be heard. A sheriff’s other employment policies may be, but are not required to be, binding. If the sheriff elects to confer binding employment rights on his deputies, those rights are enforceable according to their terms.

The Sheriff next argued that even if C.R.S. § 30-10-506 allows sheriffs to promulgate binding personnel policies, the disclaimers in the Manual and the yearly disclaimers that Cummings signed preclude, as a matter of law, the formation of an implied contract of employment. Except with respect to the rights expressly granted to deputy sheriffs by statute, these clear and conspicuous disclaimers preclude, as a matter of law, Cummings’ implied contract claims. But here, material facts are disputed on whether Cummings received the required notice of the charges that led to his dismissal.

The part of the summary judgment order permitting Cummings to pursue an implied contract claim based on rights conferred in the Manual that effectuate the due process rights granted by C.R.S. § 30-10-506 was affirmed. In all other respects, the summary judgment order was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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