On Wednesday, the State of Alabama's Personnel Board reversed the firings of two employees terminated by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) in August after video and social media posts revealed their presence at the viral Montgomery Riverfront brawl.
According to Board's records, Rachel Todd and Jennifer Roberts were employed by the Dallas County Health Department. Todd and Roberts were fired by ADPH after other department employees "developed concern for their safety" due to "threatening social media posts" related to the brawl that identified their employer. Extra security was dispatched by ADPH to several health departments after the incident.
The brawl was covered by local, state and national media outlets. Todd and Roberts traveled with a group from Selma to Montgomery on a pontoon boat that docked in a spot reserved for the Hariott II. A large brawl broke out after a Harriott II employee asked some of the people on the boat to move the boat so the Harriott II could dock.
Administrative Law Judge James Jerry Wood, in his recommendation to the board, cited testimony during the appeal process that Roberts didn't do anything to instigate or escalate the brawl and only protected her daughter when she was attacked and attempted to stop the altercation when it began.
Wood also said there was "no credible evidence that Todd engaged in any altercation or physical interaction."
According to the board's orders reversing the terminations of Rachel Todd and Jennifer Roberts, "While there was ADPH testimony that there were safety concerns to the county health department, there were in fact no incidents that occurred at any health department and no extra security was needed based on this incident."
"ADPH failed to take into consideration the Employee's work performance or work history. The evidence failed to prove that the Employee engaged in any conduct or omission that was unbecoming of a state employee. It is a chilling thought that any state employee could be dismissed from employment, merely from being in a public access location where a fight breaks out," the order stated.
The order was signed by personnel board staff and members Laury Morgan, Faye Nelson, Myron Penn, Evan Thornton and David Mellon.
The board ordered both Roberts and Todd be reinstated with full back pay and benefits. Both employees had no prior disciplinary action. Both have been employees of ADPH for 23 years.
Todd is a nutritionist, and Roberts is an environmentalist. Both were fired by ADPH in late August for "conduct unbecoming a state employee." The terminations were recommended by ADPH Administrator Corey Kirkland and approved by ADPH State Health Officer Scott Harris.
"The Alabama Department of Public Health made these decisions based upon concerns for employee safety. The employees exercised their right to due process and the State Personnel Board determined that the employees will be reinstated," an ADPH spokesperson told 1819 News on Thursday.
Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, the organization that represented Todd in her appeal, said, "We are very gratified with the decision of the hearing officer and it was not only reinstatement but reinstatement with back pay which is what we had asked for."
"We're also glad that the system worked and it worked for Rachel Todd. She was an excellent employee and it's just regrettable this whole situation happened but the system worked and we're very proud of the result. We certainly believe that our client hadn't done anything and this was the correct decision," McArthur said in an interview with 1819 News.
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