By Linda Looney-Bond
A Georgia Department of Labor administrative hearing officer has reversed the department's previous decision to deny unemployment benefits to fired Jonesboro Police Chief Brad Johnson.
Reena Patel, a Georgia Department of Labor Appeals Tribunal hearing officer, issued the ruling following an appeal hearing conducted Aug. 6, according to department documents.
Johnson was fired May 21 by Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox. Maddox stated that he fired Johnson because had not successfully completed his "working test," or probationary period.
On April 28, Maddox suspended Johnson for wearing blue jeans on the job, and for allegedly disrespecting the office of mayor.
The Jonesboro City Council voted to uphold both Maddox's decision to suspend Johnson, and his decision to fire him.
According to Department of Labor documents, the Aug. 6 appeal hearing on Johnson's unemployment benefits was conducted by telephone "with the claimant [Johnson] and his attorney Keith Martin, and Luther Maddox, Mayor of Jonesboro, and Steven Fincher, City Attorney, on behalf of the employer."
In the ruling, Patel stated, "In this case, the evidence provided by the employer regarding the claimant's failure to follow orders and complete assignments was vague and unconvincing. Violations which were made a premise for the claimant's discharge were based on confusing and inconsistently enforced policies and procedures."
Patel went on to say, "discharge occurred shortly after the claimant made efforts to follow his supervisor's dress code orders..."
"Taking into account the totality of circumstances under which the claimant was discharged, his termination was unreasonable. Therefore, the employer has failed to prove just cause for the claimant's termination. Accordingly, benefits are allowed," Patel wrote.
"It's what we've been contending all along," Johnson said Monday, regarding the ruling.
"I came on back to work [following the suspension]. l was doing what they asked me to do, and nothing changed between the time they disciplined me, and the firing," he said. "They [the Department of Labor] said the termination was unreasonable, and that's where we stood all along."
Johnson said his unemployment benefit will be between $300 and $400 dollars per week, but was not sure of the exact amount.
Georgia Department of Labor Spokesman Sam Hall declined to comment on Johnson's case Tuesday, citing a confidentiality policy.
Maddox said Tuesday that he had not seen the hearing officer's ruling, and therefore could not comment on it.
Fincher could not be reached for comment.
According to Department of Labor documents, the city has 15 days from the date the hearing officer's decision was mailed to the associated parties [Aug. 7] to appeal the decision.
Johnson has appealed his firing and suspension to Clayton County Superior Court.