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Another former District employee has come forward with a lawsuit alleging whistleblower retaliation by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty‘s administration, joining a string of managers suing the city after being fired with no explanation.
The employee is Debra Daniels, who served the District government for 15 years, including five years as head of communications for the city’s Department of Human Services.
Her lawsuit was filed last October in Superior Court, but was placed under seal for somewhat mysterious reasons. The case was unsealed last week by Judge Stephanie Duncan-Peters after both plaintiff and defendant agreed that there was no reason for the case to be under seal.
In her complaint [PDF], Daniels alleges she was fired from two District communications jobs shortly after being hired. She says both firings happened shortly after Fenty himself or top staff learned of her employment.
Daniels describes seeking or holding several jobs after being laid off in August 2007 from the Department of Human Services as part of a reduction-in-force. The following October, she accepted a job offer from the Office of the Chief Technology Officer; two weeks later, she was suddenly fired. She alleges this happened after informing Carrie S. Kohns, then mayoral communications director and now Fenty’s chief of staff, that she had been hired at OCTO.
Then, the following May, she was hired for a top communications job at the Fire and EMS Department. Again, not more than two weeks after her hiring, she was suddenly fired; this happened, according to the complaint, “a mere few hours after [Daniels] had introduced herself and assisted” Fenty at an FEMS event. A letter later sent to Daniels from fire chief Dennis L. Rubin explained she was fired for not disclosing her earlier, brief employment at OCTO. Daniels holds that she was not required on the application to disclose that job.
As an explanation for the firings, Daniels says in the suit, she was terminated “as retaliation for…previously submitted Freedom of Information Act Request and as a result of a proposal that suggested major changes within public information in the District of Columbia government.”
The FOIA request in question was filed by Daniels in August 2007, after she was deemed to be not “highly qualified” by a Department of Health panel filling a similar job to her DHS job. Daniels wanted to know what exactly “highly qualified” meant and why she wasn’t highly qualified. She says she never received any response to her request.
As for the “proposal,” that refers to a document Daniels says she drew up at the request of Fenty political aide Darryl Wiggins during the transition period. The lawsuit describes the document as “highly critical of public information in the District of Columbia Government” and as suggesting “major changes” in how public information is managed by top executive officials in the District.
Fenty spokesperson Mafara Hobson declined to comment on the case, citing personnel restrictions and the pending litigation.
Daniels is asking to be reinstated at FEMS, with back pay dating to her OCTO termination, and to have her employment record cleared of the questionable firings. The city has asked that the case be dismissed.
Daniels joins Kathleen Linebaugh, an Office of Property Management manager allegedly fired for being “a malcontent and a problem employee”; Michael Williams, the parks-and-rec manager who says he was fired after raising questions about Hizzoner’s kids’ basketball league; and Catherine Bego, the fired health department employee LL wrote about this week. All were classified as “management supervisory service” (MSS) employees, also known as “at-will” employees, meaning they could be fired at any time without cause. All are suing under civil rights or whistleblower protection statutes.
Daniels has formed a “Terminated D.C. Government MSS Employee Group” and has set up a meeting next Wednesday at 3 p.m. with Councilmembers Kwame R. Brown, Michael A. Brown, and Harry Thomas Jr. in Room 302 at the John A. Wilson Building. Daniels says she and her compatriots intend to ask the councilmembers to introduce legislation reforming the MSS grade to prohibit baseless firings.
Says Daniels, “I’m calling all terminated D.C. government MSS employees to come to this meeting to contact me and to organize—-to stop Fenty, to get rid of this law, and to stop these abuses.”