A three-panel federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that Tom White’s First Amendment rights were not violated when, he claimed, his position as Legislative Services Director was eliminated in 2012 for engaging in constitutionally protected speech.
Four years ago former Mayor Tom Bucci, a labor and employment discrimination specialist who has a mighty record representing city employees in claims against the city, filed a lawsuit in federal court declaring the city violated White’s First Amendment rights as the victim of retaliation because he “acted as the conscience and moral compass for the City Council.”
The lawsuit also claimed council members were “inappropriately diverting expense payments from their individual stipends to the general revenues of the city budget to fraudulently increase their individual expense accounts.”
White spoke out against the practices and found that his position had been whited out of the budget. Several council members were cited in Bucci’s complaint on behalf of White including Council President Tom McCarthy who was deposed in the case. White asserted he was the victim of a sham layoff. McCarthy stated publicly the case was without merit. The city countered that White lost his job due to budgetary reasons.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Meyer ruled against White last March writing “although some of the interactions plaintiff describes were undoubtedly unpleasant workplace events, he does not adduce sufficient facts to support a jury verdict that they caused the termination of his position.” The appeals court, in a ruling issued a few days ago, agreed.
Ironically, while the lower court decision was pending, Bucci represented McCarthy in his severance package agreement as deputy director of Labor Relations. The City Council approved the exit deal one year ago.
In a statement, Bucci writes, “I’m very disappointed for Mr. White. Unfortunately, the law on due process has evolved to the point that federal courts are deferring to state courts.”
The city was represented by Deputy City Attorney John Bohannon in both the lower court and appeals court rulings.