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Cummings v. Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

2021 COA 122. No. 20CA0621.  Sheriff—Deputies—Implied Employment Contract—Written Employment Policies.

September 9, 2021

Cummings developed and taught a specialized driver training course in his capacity as a deputy sheriff with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. A lieutenant who attended the course filed a complaint alleging that Cummings violated numerous policies while instructing, and the sheriff’s internal affairs section (IAS) investigated. It determined that Cummings violated three policies, and it proposed to demote him in rank. Cummings appealed the IAS decision to a disciplinary hearing panel, which concluded that Cummings should be terminated because he was untruthful during the investigatory process. After additional review, the sheriff upheld the panel’s recommendation and fired Cummings shortly thereafter.

Cummings sued the sheriff and the sheriff’s office, alleging breach of an implied employment contract. He asserted that the sheriff’s Policy and Procedure Manual’s (Manual) written employment policies constituted an implied employment contract that the sheriff breached by firing him. Specifically, Cummings alleged that he was not afforded notice of the charges that eventually led to his termination and thus denied an adequate opportunity to defend himself. A jury found that the sheriff complied with the Manual’s notice of proposed revocation section but failed to comply with the notice of investigation section, and it awarded Cummings $153,578 in damages. Defendants moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and the district court denied the motion.

On appeal, defendants argued that the district court erred by instructing the jury to consider whether the sheriff complied with the Manual’s notice of investigation section. This section grants deputies additional notice beyond what CRS § 30-10-506 requires, so the policy was not contractually binding. Accordingly, the district court erred by instructing the jury to consider the sheriff’s compliance with the policy in determining whether he breached an implied employment contract.

The judgment was reversed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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