Three years and two court decisions later, a local bus driver is getting her job back.
The city of Gainesville decided Wednesday to accept a judge’s ruling and rehire her as a Regional Transportation Systems bus driver and pay her for the three years worth of income she lost when she was fired, the amount of which is not yet determined.
The Florida First District Court of Appeal ruled last Friday to uphold a 2016 arbitrator’s decision, which is an outside party that officially settles disputes, to rehire Desiree Heyliger, 39, after she claimed she was unfairly fired in 2015.
Heyliger, a former driver of the 120 The Hub to Fraternity Row bus route, was fired after slapping passengers’ hands on two different occasions, one when a woman allegedly waved her bus pass in her face and another when a man allegedly said a rude remark to her.
Gainesville interim city manager Deborah Bowie, who wasn’t working for the city during the time of the termination, said she made the decision to reinstate Heyliger after hearing all the details of the case.
“For many of us, we weren’t here when this happened,” Bowie said. “We needed to go back and understand, how did we get to where we are?”
The validity of her termination was settled by an arbitrator based on the contract between the city and Amalgamated Transportation Union, a labor organization that represents employees in the public transit industry.
The arbitrator ruled the city unfairly fired Heyliger and should reinstate her with back pay.
Instead of accepting the ruling, the city filed a lawsuit against the union.
Bowie said she thought the city originally rejected the arbitrator’s ruling because of the strongly worded nature of the arbitrator’s award.
For the lawsuit, the trial court ruled in the city’s favor reversing the original decision. The union appealed that decision, and the case moved on to the Florida First District Court of Appeal, which decided the arbitrator’s original decision should be upheld.
Bowie said Heyliger’s start date has not yet been decided, but she will be coming back to work as a bus driver for RTS and will go through all the latest training.
“Workplace violence, in general, is an evolving area of training in the American workplace,” Bowie said.
Heyliger declined to comment, but she referred to her lawyer, Eric Lindstrom.
He said there are still some technical things to work out before she can actually go back to work.
“We’re really happy that the city decided to put her back to work,” Lindstrom said. “But we’re not going to celebrate until she’s back on a bus.”
Desiree Heyliger, 39, a former RTS bus driver, might get her job back with three years' worth of back pay after she claimed she was unfairly fired in 2015.