Nebraska Supreme Court says prison supervisor won’t have to pay lost wages to suspended employee
LINCOLN — A prison supervisor ordered to pay almost $50,000 to an employee he suspended in 2010 has won a reversal from the Nebraska Supreme Court.
A lower court in 2015 dismissed the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services from a lawsuit filed by William White, a corrections officer at the Tecumseh State Prison who was suspended then fired after being charged with a crime unrelated to his employment. The judge said qualified immunity protected the department from liability for the improper discipline against White.
But the judge denied the same immunity for Scott Busboom, a major who said he was simply following orders from above when he signed papers placing White on unpaid suspension. The judge said Busboom should have known it was a violation of the officer’s due process rights to be suspended without first being offered a hearing to contest the disciplinary action.
Last week, the Supreme Court issued a 28-page opinion reversing that decision and ordering the dismissal of damages and the lawsuit against Busboom.
In April 2010, White was suspended without pay after he was charged with a misdemeanor count of unlawful intrusion. Almost a year later, a prosecutor dismissed the charge, but that only prompted prison officials to place White on a second unpaid suspension pending an internal investigation.
In the meantime, White filed a grievance over the second suspension, but he then failed to attend two meetings with department investigators. He also did not attend a subsequent disciplinary hearing, after which he was fired.
In an opinion written by Judge Jeff Funke, the court said the department failed to let White tell his side of the story before suspending the officer. But White, in turn, failed to take advantage of his opportunities to contest the charges after he was suspended.
The court ruled that the two post-suspension meetings plus the hearing White was afforded with superiors made up for the department’s due-process violation before the suspensions.
Additionally, the court determined it was not reasonable for Busboom to have known that suspending White without a hearing was a clear violation of the officer’s constitutional rights. Therefore, it reversed the ruling by retired Johnson County District Judge Daniel Bryan ordering Busboom to pay White $47,500 in lost wages, compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
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