After a ruling last week by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, two fired Chapel Hill sanitation workers are now able to take a major step forward with a lawsuit against their former employer.
Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark, who are also known as the Sanitation 2, were fired in October 2010 after the Chapel Hill Public Works Department received complaints about them from town residents.
But Bigelow and Clark allege they were fired not for legitimate reasons but for union organizing and complaining about what they considered to be unsafe working conditions. The men, who are both black, also said racial discrimination may have played a part in their firing.
On May 7, the Court of Appeals ruled they have a viable wrongful discharge claim against the town.
The case, which was originally dismissed by Orange County Superior Court judge Allen Baddour last May, will be sent back to that court for trial.
Al McSurely, the lawyer representing Bigelow and Clark, said the court’s decision is especially significant because of North Carolina’s status as a “right to work” state, meaning private company workers cannot be required to join — or not join — a union.
For public employees, like Bigelow and Clark, union membership in N.C. would not be honored by the state.
“It is a great victory not just for these two men, but for all public employees because it established that there was a valid legal claim for people against, in this case, the Town of Chapel Hill, for firing somebody because they were an active union member,” McSurely said.
Bigelow and Clark joined the N.C. Public Service Workers Union in April 2010.