In an opinion just released by the Monterey Superior Court, Judge Kay Kingsley has ruled that Hartnell Community College has complete discretion to place employee Lydia Hampton Stewart in an appropriate work position, notwithstanding Stewart’s extended and unsuccessful legal battle to hold the college in contempt for its prior employment decisions.
In longstanding litigation, Stewart had been attempting to obtain a court ruling mandating her placement in the Nursing Department from which she had previously been removed. In a thorough exoneration of the college’s position, Judge Kingsley rejected Stewart’s months-long contempt efforts and found: "To the extent future placement in the Nursing Department is dependent on Ms. Stewart possessing the necessary current clinical experience, that determination is within Hartnell’s discretion."
In a separate aspect of the ruling, the court also rejected Stewart’s request to have the college pay almost $300,000 in legal fees, trimming the request by almost three fourths. The court previously rejected several alternative grounds by which Stewart had sought to recover her attorneys’ fees.
In response to the court’s ruling, Larry Carrier, the college’s vice president/assistant superintendent of business services, expressed his appreciation for the court’s decision. "I’m very pleased the court thoroughly rejected Ms. Stewart’s efforts to use the contempt process as leverage in the ongoing employment dispute and welcome the affirmation that a community college district has the necessary discretion to place employees where they are most fit and qualified to serve."
Carrier added that "the court’s ruling on attorneys’ fees appropriately saves a public entity hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees that were neither justified nor the responsibility of the college district."
The court’s ruling effectively ends proceedings in the trial court and the college continues to pursue the resulting appeal to confirm its right to terminate Ms. Stewart’s employment for cause. A decision is expected from the court of appeals later this year.