The state of Colorado was forced to rehire employees fired for abusing a disabled man and an imprisoned teenager. One of the employees was rehired twice even though she had reportedly kicked a mentally disabled patient.
The Pueblo Regional Center, a state home for the disabled, fired Melissa Lorenzo after she was accused of putting a blanket over a patient’s head and kicking him. The State Personnel Board ordered the Center to rehire Lorenzo, The Denver Post reported. Officials tried to fire Lorenzo twice, but the board directed them to rehire her both times.
Fulton Rushing was fired after he allegedly shoved a teenaged prisoner into the floor during a fight at a youth detention center. Rushing reportedly pushed the prisoner so hard that the teenaged boy ended up going to the hospital with a concussion.
The Personnel Board ordered the state to rehire Rushing. Instead of firing, the Board recommended that the state of Colorado dock Rushing’s pay by 5%. Rushing did not return to his job, and instead, he sued the state and settled for $117,000.
State Constitution Guarantees Employees’ Jobs For Life In Colorado
The state rehired the two because the Colorado Constitution guarantees state employees’ jobs until they reach retirement age, The Post reported. Case law requires that the state subject its employees to multiple layers of “progressive discipline” instead of being fired.
That means the State Department of Human Services cannot fire employees even if they abuse the mentally ill, the disabled, or teenaged prisoners. Under current law, the only way they may fire such employees is if they are convicted of a felony or commit several offenses against vulnerable people.
Any state employee who is fired can appeal his or her termination to the State Personnel Board. The board is composed of lawyers elected by state employees, union officials (who are elected by state employees), lawyers and “human resources experts” appointed by the governor. The board can overrule state officials’ decisions and force them to rehire any terminated employee.
A proposed state law, House Bill 1065, would make it easier for Human Services to fire any employee responsible for an egregious incident of mistreatment. The law is awaiting Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper’s signature.
Lorenzo is still working at the Pueblo Regional Center, but she is not allowed near the residents for their safety, The Post reported.