Employee Terminated After Being Charged in Forged Will-Signing Scheme Finally Gets Job Back

A Tennessee appeals court affirms that a Memphis city employee who had been terminated from her job 11 years ago following her alleged involvement in witnessing the forged signing of a will should be reinstated with back pay. City of Memphis v. Beverly Prye (Tenn. Ct. App., No. W2020-01716-COA-R3-CV, April 26, 2022).

In early 2010, Ulysses Jones, Jr., an employee of the Memphis Fire Department, requested that his co-worker and friend Beverly Prye witness and sign his last will and testament. Ms. Prye obliged. Following Mr. Jones’ death later that same year and a petition to admit his will to probate by Mr. Jones’ partner, his children claimed the will was fraudulent. The probate court upheld this claim, concluding that Mr. Jones’ signature was not genuine, and the will was invalid.

A subsequent investigation by the Memphis Police Department resulted in the arrests in 2011 of the partner as well as Ms. Prye and an additional witness on charges that included forgery and tampering with evidence. As a result, the Memphis Division of Fire Services chose to terminate Ms. Prye’s employment with the city for violating its conduct and truthfulness policies. Ms. Prye appealed to the Civil Service Commission for the City of Memphis.

Over the course of the next eight years, the Commission held Ms. Prye’s appeal in abeyance. During this time, Ms. Prye’s charges were expunged. Yet in early 2020, the Commission held its hearing on the matter and unanimously affirmed the decision to dismiss Ms. Prye from the Fire Department.

A month later, Ms. Prye challenged the Commission’s decision in court. The court concluded that the Commission’s decision to terminate Ms. Prye was arbitrary and capricious. It also stated that, according to the termination letter Prye had received, her arrest and charges had been the primary reason for her termination, although there was ultimately no evidence to support the charges. The court reinstated Ms. Prye to her position with full back pay and benefits. The City of Memphis appealed.

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirms the lower court ruling that the Commission’s decision to fire Ms. Prye was arbitrary and capricious, and must be reversed.

Read the decision at https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/pryebeverlyopn.pdf.