Houston County Circuit Judge Henry "Butch" Binford reversed the termination of former City of Dothan employee Stephanie Wingfield on Thursday.
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed Binford's initial ruling in December to uphold the firing of Stephanie Wingfield by the City of Dothan over her alleged role in a scheme to falsify paperwork in a federal meals program administered by the City of Dothan during the pandemic.
The Court of Civil Appeals reversed that initial ruling on Wingfield and sent the case back to Houston County Circuit Court in December.
"Because the board's order is founded only on hearsay evidence, there is insufficient legal evidence to support the board's decision, and it cannot be sustained," members of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals wrote in their ruling. "It appears from the record that the testimony that supported the city's termination of Wingfield's employment -- that she had knowingly used incorrect information in the completion of forms required for the city to be reimbursed for meals and snacks purchased through the program, that she had provided the employees under her supervision with incorrect information, and that she had failed to provide them with the information and documents they needed to do their jobs properly -- was based solely on information that Marcus and Hall had learned from others."
Ramona Marcus is Dothan's finance director. Alison Hall is Dothan's director of leisure services. Wingfield is currently suing Hall, Marcus and the City of Dothan in federal court for racial discrimination, deprivation of due process and a hostile work environment.
"The hearsay evidence was basically to the effect when it is was all boiled down was that the timing of documenting the meals…where they were given out, who they were given out to, the timing of that the city had a question about. (The city) thought it should have been contemporaneous as opposed to on a weekly or monthly basis when the data was collected. However, the city didn't point to any federal regulation or state law associated with the feeding program that would require that data to be captured on the documents that would be submitted to the state for reimbursement. There was no statute or regulation that was ever cited," Richard Rice, Wingfield's attorney, said in a court hearing on Thursday. "We think that giving the parties an opportunity to mediate this and try to resolve it is probably in everybody's best interest and the most efficient resolution to all of it."
Joe Herring, an attorney representing the city of Dothan, requested Binford allow Dothan's Personnel Board to rehear Wingfield's case again with different evidence. However, a motion to that effect wasn't granted.
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