Archaeologist blocked in appeal of job loss
Employment dispute • Kevin Jones says he was forced out; the state says he retired.
Published: February 4, 2012 08:45AM
Updated: April 11, 2012 11:23PM
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Steve Griffin | Tribune File Photo Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones was laid off from the Utah Department of Community and Culture in June.

Former State Archaeologist Kevin Jones cannot challenge the loss of his state job last summer in a restructuring at the Utah Department of Community and Culture.

An officer of the Utah Career Service Review Office ruled Thursday that he has no jurisdiction in the case because Jones chose to retire before he could be terminated in a reduction of force.

“By resigning and subsequently retiring,” said the decision by administrator Robert W. Thompson, Jones “avoided the negative consequences to his accrued leave and benefits that would have occurred had he been RIF’d.

“Simply stated, [Jones’] resignation negated the agency need to either implement its proposed RIF or, more specifically, involuntarily separate [Jones] from his employment on Aug. 1, 2011.”

Jones said Friday he was not surprised that DCC has continued to deny that it “blackmailed and bullied him” into moving on.

Thompson heard oral arguments from both sides Jan. 19, 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 the actions cost him about $300,000 in salary and future retirement income.

“They can’t produce a document that says I resigned,” Jones said in an interview Friday. “I never told my employers, ‘I am resigning.’ ”

The attorney for DCC had argued Jones was not eligible to have his case reviewed administratively because he chose to leave state employment. He also said the archaeologist’s departure was handled as it was — he was officially put on administrative leave in June until the end of July — to allow him to reach age 60 and qualify for key retirement benefits before officially leaving his job.

Last week’s ruling acknowledged Jones’ decision was “clearly unpleasant,” but not proof that his departure was involuntary.

Jones said he is considering his options, which could include a court fight. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” he said.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah