City responds to Rist appeal

Published 9:34 am Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Claims there is no constitutional issue

The City of Ironton has filed a response to former police sergeant Beth Rist’s appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The response was filed Monday.

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Rist, who is now a city councilwoman, is appealing to the high court to get her job back. She was fired in 2008 after pleading guilty to falsifying a traffic ticket. She filed a grievance protesting her termination in which an arbitrator determined that she had been terminated without cause.

The arbitrator also ordered that she be reinstated to her position as a police officer.

After the city appealed the arbitrator’s decision, Rist’s termination was reinstated. She filed a civil rights lawsuit last summer alleging discrimination and wrongful termination.

In October, the Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld her termination. She appealed to the supreme court Dec. 9, 2010.

Ironton City Council took a vote at its regular meeting Dec. 20 about whether or not the city should respond to Rist’s appeal. After a vote, however, nothing was decided because the decision would have required four votes. Rist did not vote and the five other council members present did not reach a decision.

Mayor Rich Blankenship said he took the advice of both the city solicitor and Portsmouth attorney Alan Lemons before submitting the response.

“I don’t know of any case where we haven’t filed a response,” Blankenship said. “This case would be no different. Any time there’s litigation it is in the best interest for the city to submit a response so the court will see our side.”

In the city’s response, it argues that the Fourth District Court of Appeals’ decision was based on prior decisions of the supreme court and is therefore not of public and general interest.

“This case has no great public importance because it holds and stands for nothing more than what the citizens of the State of Ohio expect and require of a police officer,” the response says in part. “When Appellant promulgated a falsehood upon local law enforcement, the courts, and the community in Lawrence County, Ohio, she violated the trust and expectations that the citizens of Ironton and the county expect from a public officer. Her dismissal is what is expected and required by public policy. Public confidence would be shaken if an arbitration that returned a City of Ironton police officer to her job after pleading guilty to a charge of falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor, committed in the course of her employment, was allowed to stand.”

The response further states that the law concerning arbitration in Ohio has not been violated by Rist’s termination and that there is no need to clarify whether a “public policy exception has been adopted in Ohio.”

No constitutional question has been presented in the case and the Fourth District Court of Appeals’ Decision is based on prior supreme court rulings, the city argues in its response.

Rist’s appeal to the high court states it seeks an opinion about whether the courts can review and reverse policies based on public policy, whether the courts can vacate an arbitration award reinstating an employee based on the court’s determination that the employee violated public policy and whether an arbitration ruling providing for the reinstating of an officer who was found to have broken the law violates any public policy.

If the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeals is allowed to stand, Rist’s appeal states, state employees should conclude that their contracts with employers could be nullified based on the court’s refusal to be bound by the law.

This would have a negative impact on public confidence in collective bargaining, the appeal states.

Rist filed a lawsuit against the City of Ironton and its police department June 1, 2010, in the U.S. District Court. In the lawsuit, the former police sergeant claimed she was fired because of her gender and in retaliation for her documented opposition to what she alleges was discriminatory treatment.

The lawsuit alleged that her termination and the city’s failure to reinstate Rist were motivated by a desire to discriminate against her for protesting a hostile work environment.

In 2001, Rist, who was hired in 1996 as the department’s first female officer, successfully sued the city in a suit that alleged sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

Reached Monday afternoon, Rist’s attorney Marc Mezibov said he looks forward to a positive outcome in the appeal and declined to comment further.