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Fired Florida county administrator sues for severance

Negotiating a severance agreement involves addressing several factors that go beyond the bottom line. The employee needs to protect his or her interests and career prospects during this process. Among the considerations to negotiate are the length of time it may take you to find comparable employment elsewhere; full or partial release from any non-compete agreements; and, any employment contracts you may have signed.

In Tampa, Florida, a former county administrator is currently suing Hillsborough County for the severance she was denied when she was fired in June 2010. The 66-year-old woman wants the county to pay her severance as written in her employment contract: one year's salary plus the value of benefits.

The county has objected, reportedly due to the circumstances of her dismissal. The woman was fired after giving herself a 1 percent raise without approval from the county commissioners. The commissioners have said that she forfeited her severance with that action.

However, her attorney has said that her employment contract states she would only be denied severance if she participated in a crime. The raise was not a crime, and she was acting in good faith in regard to the salary increase, he said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has conducted an investigation into the pay raise and she was cleared of wrongdoing. She has said that both the former county attorney and the human resources department told her she was eligible for a raise as part of a program that rewards county employees for saving the county money. Sixty-two county employees reportedly received raises under the program; none of them were approved by the county commission.

This case illustrates the complexities of drafting and negotiating severance agreements. If you are losing your job, it is often in your best interest to have any severance documents reviewed by an employment law attorney. Sometimes, severance agreements contain a full general release in favor of the employer. This means that by signing the agreement, you may have waived your right to bring a claim. This is why it is best to have someone with legal expertise review such documents.

Source: The Tampa Tribune, "Bean says severance is due," Elaine Silvestrini, Dec. 30, 2011

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