Nebraska Association
of Public Employees

Lincoln Child Support Specialist Reinstated After Wrongful Termination

Kathy Holdsworth is a DHHS employee who has dedicated over 30 years to public service. During her career, she had never been disciplined, and she has received positive performance evaluations every year. Kathy was shocked when her employment was terminated in 2022.

As part of her job in Child Support Enforcement, Kathy has access to systems which contain confidential information. Kathy also has an elderly sister, who receives child support payments for her granddaughter. These payments are processed through Kathy’s office, but are assigned to another worker. At some point, the child support checks started being made out to the wrong person. In order to correct this mistake, Kathy emailed the County Attorney’s office on behalf of her sister. This email did not contain any sensitive information. It simply stated that she was trying to help her sister correct the error and asked for next steps to take.

After receiving the email, the County Attorney’s office contacted Kathy’s supervisor, stating that although it didn’t seem as though Kathy was disclosing confidential information, it was inappropriate to contact them outside of the proper channels of communication. An audit was then conducted of Kathy’s computer systems usage, which found that, over the course of 7 years, she had accessed her sister’s case around 30 times. However, in each of the times she had accessed her sister’s case, she had only accessed the page in which she could see whether or not a child support payment was made. This action was inappropriate and a violation of DHHS policy. 

Kathy received a pre-disciplinary notice, explaining the allegations against her. NAPE/AFSCME union steward Randy Chapp assisted and represented Kathy through the pre-disciplinary process. It’s always important to have a union representative with you during any meeting that could lead to disciplinary action. Kathy and Randy explained to management that her actions were inappropriate, and they advocated for disciplinary action in line with a first offense after a long and productive career. 

Shortly after the pre-disciplinary meeting, DHHS terminated Kathy’s employment. Randy quickly reached out to our NAPE/AFSCME field staff, who filed a grievance on her behalf. After a number of months of hearings, Kathy’s case was set for a final arbitration hearing. 

At hearing, Kathy again admitted that she violated policy and that some level of discipline was appropriate given the circumstances. However, NAPE/AFSCME argued that our contract requires that discipline be progressive in nature and based on the nature and severity of the alleged infractions.

The arbitrator found that while Kathy had accessed her sister’s case, she did not disclose any confidential information. Coupled with her positive performance history and lack of previous disciplinary action, the arbitrator ruled that termination of Kathy’s employment was a violation of our contract. The arbitrator issued an order that Kathy must be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.

If you find yourself in a situation that might lead to disciplinary action, it is imperative that you contact your union representative immediately. The employee must request that a union representative attend any meeting with management that might lead to disciplinary action. Management is under no obligation to warn you to have a representative attend a meeting to represent you.

Nebraska Association of
Public Employees