Judge Says Rehire Hunter
Robert H. Hunter, who was fired from his position as assistant director of the Ann Arbor Human Rights Department two months ago and went to court to fight the dismissal, has been ordered reinstated to his former post by a federal judge in Detroit.
Judge John Feikens on the 8th U. S. District Court issued the order and accompanying opinion on the case yesterday afternoon. Feikens ruled that Hunter be "reinstated forthwith" to his job with the city.
The ruling was based on Feikens' decision that Hunter was denied "procedural due process" by the city when he was fired.
The 27-year-old Hunter was released from his employment position by Human Rights Director James C. Slaughter on Feb. 1 following a dispute between the two men concerning the manner in which Hunter was performing pis work.
At the time of the dismissal, Slaughter said: "Mr. Hunter was no longer performing in an efficient and responsible manner, therefore necessitating this regrettable action. It is in the best interest of the city and Mr. Hunter to detail no further his release from city employment."
It was known, however, that Hunter was absent from his job for several weeks prior to the firing. Hunter gave medical reasons for his absence, although he later told The News that Slaughter had informed him that "he didn't believe I was sick."
The disagreement over the reason for the absence led to an argument between Hunter and Slaughter during which charges of insubordination were made, Hunter said. The assistant director was released within weeks of this incident, prompting Hunter's lawsuit against the city for reinstatement and aggravating many persons in the black community who believed the firing was racist and a political maneuver.
The lawsuit contended Hunter was discharged from his job because he enforced the city's human rights ordinance and because he is black. The suit resulted in a four-day hearing on the matter before Judge Feikens last month.
Included in yesterday's court order was a requirement that Hunter receive retroactive pay to the date of firing and be rehired at his previous salary of $13,661.
Despite the reinstatement ruling, it appears Hunter still may never actually sit working behind a desk in the Human Rights Department again.
Feikens stated in his order that Ann Arbor is not required to return Hunter to "active duty."
Further, the order points out that nothing contained in it should be construed as preventing the city from proceeding with the complete termination of Hunter's employment provided that the requirements of procedural due process as set forth in the judge's opinion are followed.
According to Bill White, law clerk for Judge Feikens, the order makes no conclusions as to the merits of the case, and does not address itself to Hunter's request in the lawsuit that he be awarded $80,000 in damages from the city.
White said Hunter could still go to trial on this facet of the case if he so desired.
None of those persons primarily involved in the Hunter case were available or willing to comment at any length on the court order when contacted by The News this morning.
Hunter said, "I'm not making any statements to The Ann Arbor News so they can use it to testify against me again." He did not explain what he meant by the statement.
Slaughter said, "I'll obviously have a position to take (on the ruling) but I'd
rather not take it until I've read the judge's opinion." He added that, as of this morning, he knew only the "bare bones" of the ruling.
"I understand that there are some things in the opinion that we will have to look at and see what the technicalities are," Slaughter concluded.
Judge Feikens was reported "unavailable" for comment, while both City Attorney Jerold Lax and Mayor Robert J. Harris were out of town this morning.
City Administrator Guy C. Larcom Jr. was reported in a meeting this morning, and attorney Fredrick L. McDonald, who represented Hunter in the case, said he wished to decline to comment.
U.S. District Court (Detroit)
Human Rights Ordinance
Ann Arbor Human Rights Department
Ann Arbor City Council
Black American Community
Ann Arbor News
Robert J. Harris
Robert H. Hunter
James C. Slaughter
Guy C. Larcom Jr.
Frederick L. McDonald
David C. Cowley