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Harper v. State

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

December 27, 2016

DEBORAH HARPER; TRACEY EVERITT; MICHELLE PARKER; JANA LEINEWEBER; and JANET SABOL, Plaintiffs/Appellants,
v.
STATE OF ARIZONA, Defendant/Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CV2015-002273 The Honorable Robert H. Oberbillig, Judge

         AFFIRMED.

          Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix By Ann Hobart Counsel for Defendant/Appellee.

          Broening Oberg Woods & Wilson PC, Phoenix By Terrence P. Woods and Brian Holohan Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants.

          Presiding Judge Andrew W. Gould delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Peter B. Swann and Judge Patricia A. Orozco joined.

          OPINION

          GOULD, Judge.

         ¶1 Deborah Harper, Tracey Everitt, Michelle Parker, Jana Leineweber, and Janet Sabol ("Plaintiffs") appeal the superior court's order dismissing their wrongful termination claims against the State. Because Plaintiffs failed to state a cognizable claim for wrongful termination, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Plaintiffs were employees of Child Protective Services ("CPS"), a department of the Division of Children, Youth and Families of the Arizona Department of Economic Security. At the time of their termination, Plaintiffs held the following postions: Harper was employed as a program administrator, Everitt was a program manager, Parker served as policy program manager, and Leineweber and Sabol worked as assistant program managers.

         ¶3 In 2011, CPS had a backlog of "unassigned" reports involving child abuse and neglect. CPS assembled a team that included Plaintiffs to review and dispose of the backlog.

         ¶4 CPS directed Plaintiffs to develop a protocol to dispose of unassigned reports. This protocol included designating some of the reports as "NI, " or not investigated. Once a report was designated "NI, " it was considered resolved. According to Plaintiffs, they were directed to use the "NI" designation by their superiors.

         ¶5 When the public learned that CPS was using the "NI" designation to dispose of child abuse/neglect reports, there was a firestorm of bad press and negative public backlash. The Department of Public Safety investigated the use of the "NI" designation and issued a report. Then, in April 2014, Plaintiffs were terminated by the then-Director of the Division of Child Safety and Family.

         ¶6 Plaintiffs filed this complaint for wrongful termination. The State filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Plaintiffs had failed to allege a viable wrongful termination claim. The superior ...


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