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Utah archaeologist tries to fight state layoff

Published January 20, 2012 2:08 pm

Government • The appeal starts with the basics: firing or retirement?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Former State Archaeologist Kevin Jones is appealing his firing from the state last June in a major restructuring. But the state is fighting him all the way, saying — to start with — that he retired and has no appeal available.

Bob Thompson, administrator of the Utah Career Service Review Office, is expected to rule next month whether his agency can even take up Jones' complaint against the Department of Community and Culture (DCC).

Thompson heard oral arguments from both sides Thursday, with Utah Assistant Attorney General David Pena representing the DCC and Jones representing himself.

For Jones, the quarrel about his departure from state government is a matter of personal and professional pride, as well as a legal matter. For the state, it is an issue of Jones' employment status after the overhaul of the archaeology program last summer.

At the time, Michael Hansen, then acting department director, said cuts mandated by the state Legislature forced him to eliminate the three-person antiquities team, including Jones and the position of state archaeologist. Hansen later rehired one of the three employees to a newly created position of physical anthropologist, but he rejected Jones' appeal of his June 21 termination.

A 22-year employee, Jones said Thursday he did not willingly retire from the state but was terminated as part of a reduction in force, and he claims the action has cost him some $300,000 in salary and future retirement income.

"It is ridiculous that over six months after my termination, the state of Utah is arguing that I was not terminated from state employment," Jones said in Thursday's hearing.

"Were that the case, we would not be here. I would be enjoying my retirement. Going fishing. I would have had a nice reception with punch and cookies, and gotten a handshake or two, and best wishes from my co-workers."

Instead, Jones said, he was "extremely humiliated" when he was ordered to grab only his briefcase and was escorted to his car by a security guard as his former co-workers looked on.

"I did not bring this on myself," he said.

The DCC attorney argued that Jones is not eligible to have his case reviewed administratively because he chose to leave state employment.

Pena noted that Jones' departure was handled in such a way that he would be able to reach age 60 and be eligible for key retirement benefits before he officially left his job by being placed on administrative leave until the end of July.

Had Jones forced the issue about termination at the time, he would have been ineligible for some retirement benefits that he now receives.

"He did have a very difficult choice to make," Pena said Thursday.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah