PHOENIX — Five child welfare workers fired in the wake of a scandal about uninvestigated abuse complaints will not be getting their jobs back.

In its ruling today, the state Court of Appeals did not address whether it was fair for the state to dismiss the workers who were linked to marking certain cases as NI, as in "not investigated,'' despite statutes requiring all such complaints to be researched. Their attorney, Terry Woods, said they were "scapegoats'' for decisions made by upper management.

Instead, appellate Judge Andrew Gould, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said the five were all supervisors. And what that meant, he said, is they were "at-will'' employees who, under state law, could be fired for no reason at all.

And the appellate judges rebuffed Woods' request they ignore that law and rule that, as a matter of public policy, that it was wrong of the state to fire them simply to provide "official political cover'' for the policy that resulted in bad publicity.

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But they reserved for another day — and another case — whether the law declaring all employment relationships to be severable "at will'' is unconstitutional.