MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - A screw up at Memphis City Hall means a firefighter busted for drugs may soon be back on the job.
So far the mistake has resulted in a judge ordering the city to give the fireman his job back.
When a city employee is caught using drugs they are put into a drug program. If they test positive for drugs a second time they're fired. It sounds simple, but a paperwork problem at city hall left a loophole for employees.
Firefighter Steve Payton caught a lucky break thanks to either a mistake or just incompetence at city hall.
A judge ordered the City of Memphis give Payton his job back, a move City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert found "alarming, that's alarming"
Payton first tested positive for marijuana during a drug test in 2008 and was put into the city's drug program. In 2010, a test once again turned up drugs in his system and he was fired.
A judge recently determined Payton should get his job back with nearly two years back pay because the city violated federal laws regarding the release of confidential records.
The forms the city made employees sign to enter the drug program didn't give the city permission to obtain or release an employee's drug test results.
City Councilman Jim Strickland said on learning about the judge's decision, "It does seem disappointing that the city's own incompetence has thwarted the effort probably needed to be fired."
The truth is, this wouldn't be an issue if the city would have taken action years ago. In 2005, another Memphis employee got his job back for the very same reason, but the city never closed the loophole.
Memphis Fire Association Vice President Joe Norman says the bottom line, the loophole means not just Payton, but other city employees fired for drugs use, may end up getting their jobs back
"I'm surprised the gap has been open that long with the previous issue ten years ago and this instance here," he said. "There are others going behind him with the same argument that fall under the same provisions; we'll see how those shake out."
The city is appealing the judge's ruling to a higher court. Because of that, no one from city hall is talking. Mayor Wharton's spokesperson did tell abc24.com that the loophole is now closed; the forms employees now sign comply with federal law.