By ERRIN HAINES
Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA- Georgia's Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling that 27 deputies, most of them white, were unjustly fired by their county's new black sheriff.The deputies were fired by Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill on Jan. 3, 2005, his first day in office. Some had supported the incumbent who had lost.
The deputies sued, alleging discrimination and political retaliation.
A lower court judge ordered Hill to rehire most of the employees within days, but he did not give them their former jobs, instead demoting them to work as correctional officers. Four of the deputies have since retired, resigned or are otherwise no longer affected in the pending litigation.
The high court ruled 6-1 on Monday "that the elected sheriff is not subject to the civil service system, but those occupying positions in his office are." It said the sheriff's employees can only be fired "for good cause and in accordance with civil service system rules and regulations."
It was not immediately clear how the Supreme Court ruling will affect the deputies, said their attorney, Harlan Miller.
The sheriff "has to treat them with the dignity and respect they've earned over many years of service," Miller said.
Hill had said the firings were part of a plan to reorganize a dysfunctional department. The deputies had been summoned to the jail, stripped of their guns and badges and handed letters of dismissal. Snipers stood guard on the roof of the jail as the workers were escorted out.
In a statement after Monday's ruling, the sheriff said: "Unfortunately, we are stuck with the administration of the past sheriff. We will move forward with this team that we have been dealt instead of the team of our own choosing as past sheriffs have been allowed to do."