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by Jordan Green

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Court of appeals rules against former Forsyth elections employees

A three-judge panel of the NC Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court judge’s ruling that three former employees of the Forsyth County Board of Elections are not entitled to protection under the state Whistleblower Act.

Pam Johnson and Terry Cox were each hired in 2001. Johnson was fired and Cox took early retirement on a physician’s advice in 2009. Along with Deena Head, a seasonal worker, Johnson and Cox went public with allegations of election law violations at the board in 2011 and accused Elections Director Rob Coffman of harassing and belittling them, along with other employees.

The three-member board of elections investigated the allegations and found no evidence of wrongdoing. In 2011, Johnson, Cox and Head sued Coffman, the board of elections and the county for negligent hiring of Coffman, negligent retention of Coffman, wrongful termination of Johnson, negligent infliction of emotional distress by Coffman and violation of the Whistleblower Act. Superior Court Judge Lindsay R. Davis dismissed the plaintiff’s whistleblower claim on July 17, 2012. The other claims were subsequently dismissed.

In their appeal, the plaintiff’s cited the Court of Appeals decision in Graham County Board of Elections v. Graham County Board of Commissioners to support their argument that they were covered by the state Whistleblower Act as employees of the Forsyth County Board of Elections.

Judge Sanford Steelman wrote in the court’s opinion, dated May 21, that the plaintiffs’ appeal “ignores our explicit holding in Graham County that “while a county director of elections is appointed and terminated by the State Board of Elections, he is a ‘county employee.’” Judge Rick Elmore and Judge Donna S. Stroud affirmed the unanimous decision.

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