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Librarian sues to get her job back in Dubois

Feb 6, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The fired manager of the Dubois Branch Library is suing the Fremont County Library Board to get her job back.

Paula Sabatka through attorney H. Clay Fulcher of Dubois filed a "petition for review of agency action" in Lander 9th Judicial District Court on Jan. 31 stating her termination was improper.

The petition asks that the court order the Library Board to reinstate Sabatka, pay her salary from the date of her termination, Nov. 8, through when she resumes her position, and adjust her benefits and seniority as if she had been continuously employed.

Fremont County Library Director Matt Nojonen fired Sabatka for allegedly violating a state law prohibiting public officials from using public funds for private benefit.

That statute states: "A public official, public member or public employee shall not use public funds, time, personnel, facilities or equipment for his private benefit or that of another unless the use is authorized by law."

In November 2012, before her termination, Sabatka used library money to purchase $544 of books for Fremont County School District 2 in Dubois. The petition stated the school district reimbursed the library system in accordance with to an informal agreement between the two entities.

Sabatka appealed her termination to the Fremont County Library Board of Directors, which held a grievance hearing for her Nov. 29. The meeting lasted several hours and was held in executive session.

Both sides presented evidence and testimony before the library board and a hearing officer, Riverton attorney Joel Vincent.

The Fremont County Library Board upheld Nojonen's decision on Dec. 14 after receiving a report from Vincent.

That report said at the Nov. 29 hearing, the library board concluded Sabatka was an "at-will" employee, and Nojonen could have fired her for any reason. It further stated the board found the grievance procedure did not change her at-will status, and said Sabatka did not prove her termination was unjustified.

Sabatka's petition filed in district court argues the library board's decision to uphold her termination was improper for four reasons.

The petition first argues the board's decision was not based on her at-will employment status because the hearing gave her a chance to show her firing was not justified.

The document also contends Sabatka was not a public official, public member or public employee under Wyoming statute, and the law against such individuals using public funds inappropriately did not apply to her.

Third, the petition said Sabatka did not benefit nor did any other private entity benefit from the book purchase. The only benefit was to a public entity, the document said.

A person only violates the law if public funds are used for the person's own, private benefit or for the private benefit of another, the petition said.

Finally, at the Nov. 29 hearing, Sabatka attempted to exclude testimony and evidence Nojonen presented about alleged misconduct prior to the book transaction, but the hearing officer allowed it. The petition said permitting that evidence was a mistake and should it be stricken from the record.

Based on its four arguments, the petition asks the court to declare the library board's decision to uphold Sabatka's termination "was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law."

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