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The Suburbanite
  • Fired Perry officer's attorney: My client resigned

  • Is it a case of ‘you can’t fire me because I quit?’ And if not, did Perry Township trustees treat former Police Chief Timothy Escola differently than the part-time officer he was caught on tape kissing?

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  • Is it a case of ‘you can’t fire me because I quit?’ And if not, did Perry Township trustees treat former Police Chief Timothy Escola differently than the part-time officer he was caught on tape kissing?
    A day after firing part-time Officer Janine England for her participation in a June 2 trip to Cincinnati in which England, 30, and Escola, 57, are caught by a dashboard camera kissing and caressing each other while on duty, township officials found themselves explaining the decision.
    “The action of Perry Township was a legal nullity and mean-spirited,” England’s attorney, Lee Plakas, said in a prepared statement. “Once an employee resigns from a job, an employer cannot pretend that the employee still works there solely to falsely claim that the employee has been fired.”
    Plakas said Ohio is an employment-at-will state, meaning that in the absence of a binding agreement England has the right to choose to resign from her job.
    “It serves no legitimate purpose to try to fire someone after they have quit,” he wrote.
    England submitted her resignation at 5 p.m. Tuesday. An hour later, at a previously scheduled and advertised special meeting, trustees voted to fire England rather than accept her resignation.
    A week earlier, trustees did the opposite. Instead of bypassing Escola’s resignation and firing him for his conduct in the incident, as they did with England, they accepted his resignation and, at the time, closed their investigation.
    “They should have treated both letters the same and followed the letter of the law of Ohio,” Plakas said. “It is cause for surprise and concern. There must’ve been a difference in the minds of the Perry Township board, but that’s why it’s surprising to me.”
    Plakas said his client admitted her actions were inappropriate and she resigned for it. Plakas said England, too, is surprised by trustees’ decision.
    Law Director Charles Hall, who made recommendations to trustees on both cases, said there is a difference.
    Trustees waited a week to take action against England, who was hired April 13 and therefore still under her year-long probation, because they needed to determine if she had been coerced into the situation and placed into a hostile work environment.
    Hall said Tuesday he was able to determine that England was a “willing and consensual” participant by reviewing a series of e-mails, interviewing police officers and former co-workers and watching the in-car video, among other things.
    “The resolution passed by the Perry Township Board of Trustees is valid and has legal effect,” Hall said in response to Plakas’ statement. “The resolution speaks for itself and states the board’s reason, basis and rationale for terminating Janine England.
    “(She) engaged in conduct that violated departmental policy and that was unbecoming of a police officer,” Hall said. “There was no mean-spirited intent.”
    Page 2 of 2 - So why is this different from Escola?
    Hall said trustees had to make it clear that England was being terminated for her conduct, rather than being forced to resign. Even though trustees did not request England to step down, Hall said she could make a claim down the road that she was forced to quit.
    He referred to it as “constructive termination,” or a forced resignation.
    “If you read her letter of resignation, she claims she’s resigning because of media pressure and that her performance was exemplary,” Hall said. “She could come back later and say ‘I didn’t really mean to resign. I was forced to because of the circumstances.’”
    England said in her letter she was resigning because she wanted to move forward.
    “Even though my work history with the police department was exemplary, due to the recent media attention to this matter I firmly believe this would be in the best interest of the Perry Police Department,” she wrote.
    Can’t Escola make a similar claim of “constructive termination?”
    Hall said he can’t.
    “Last week Escola indicated that there was a valid reason for his (resignation),” he said. “He communicated the reason for his resignation separately and individually to the board and the board’s representative.
    “They knew he was resigning because he was having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate,” Hall said. “At that point, we were done (with Escola).”
    Plakas said he does not know if England will file a lawsuit against the township.
    “We will have to evaluate the situation,” he said.