|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: I agree with your conclusion that the omission of "step-children" from the list is most likely an oversight, and that it was not the intention of the council/board that passed the policy. There are a number of premises that support this theory and only one that does not.
First, step-children are closer (and of greater affiliation) family members than grandparents-in-law, for example. Yet grandparents-in-law are precluded from being employed under the same line of supervision in the city. Thus it makes no sense to include more distant family members in the nepotism policy, while excluding a class of individuals that are of closer consanguinity. While we are discussing a personnel policy, I think basic rules of statutory construction apply to this analysis. A law (or ordinance or policy provision) should not be applied and interpreted in such a way as to lead to an absurd result. Epstein v. State , 336S.W. 2d 914 (Tenn. 1963). It is illogical to presume that the council purposely left out step-children when the policy was drafted and approved. Such a result is absurd, because applying it as it is currently written would result in an instance of nepotism - just what the policy was written to avoid.
Second, if the city does allow step-children to be employed in the same line of supervision, while precluding all the other named classes of family members, those individuals would have a fairly viable argument that the policy as applied constitutes a violation of the equal protections clauses of the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions. I cannot conceive of any rational bases to single out step-children from the policy’s restrictions applicable to the other family classes. The fundamental rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and, if possible, give effect to the intention or purpose of the Legislature as expressed in the statute. Worrall v. Kroger Company, 545 S.W.2d 736, 738 (Tenn.1977). The legislative intent or purpose is to be ascertained primarily from the natural and ordinary meaning of the language used, when read in the context of the entire statute, without any forced or subtle construction to limit or extend the import of the language. Id. To construe the omission of step-children as a purposeful act from the list of individuals affected by the nepotism policy would be a "forced construction" in my opinion, especially based on the degree of consanguinity of the other individuals.
My advice would be for the council to amend the policy to include step-children in the list, and also state in the resolution that the prior omission was an oversight.