Friday, February 24, 2012

Former Hillsborough County Administrator Wins Employment Contract Dispute


Patricia Bean served as the County Administrator for Hillsborough County, Florida.  In that capacity she reported to the County Commissioners.   A few years back she gave raises to herself and the County Attorney without approval of the County Commissioners.  This resulted in both of their dismissals.  The circumstances surrounding their dismissals was on the front pages of the local newspapers for a couple of years (and I admit I did not catch all of the stories). Unfortunately, her decision making resulted in local and state investigations.

The most recent battle involved her seeking a severance package in connection with the dismissal.  Ms. Bean had a very nice employment contract drafted that allowed her to claim a severance even if she was terminated.  Usually, in executive contracts an executive will not receive severance if they are terminated “for cause.”  In Ms. Bean’s contract, cause would require a finding of criminal wrongdoing. 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated Ms. Bean’s actions.   Although Ms. Bean’s reputation in this County will always be associated with unethical behavior, the FDLE concluded that there was no criminal wrongdoing.

Ms. Bean wanted to get paid.  Recognizing the notoriety of the case, the County Commissioners said no way will we give you a severance.  An attempt to negotiate followed. After the negotiations broke down, Ms. Bean sued.

This was a difficult call for the County Commissioners.  Given the language of the contract, it seemed that they had an uphill battle.  Still, they felt that it was necessary to go forward with the suit.

A trial was held before Judge Barton on December 29.   Yes, the judge required the attorneys to appear him during the week between Christmas and New Years.  Having considered the evidence, the judge ruled in Ms. Bean’s favor.

One person noted that “she paid the judge off.”  While the public may not be happy with the result, that did not happen.  This case was won when the parties signed her contract.  Of course, when these contracts are drafted there are a lot of pleasantries and the executive is excited about taking on the new position and moving forward.  Years ago, no one expected that the County Commissioners would have to fire their chief executive.  This case shows that one of the most important things to review in these agreements is what happens if the parties have to go there separate ways.


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