Federal Court Allows Police Whistleblower’s Lawsuit Against City Officials to Proceed

A federal judge denied a motion to dismiss a police officer’s lawsuit against a Pennsylvania borough and multiple borough officials for alleged retaliation and civil rights violations. The plaintiff alleged retaliation for reporting fraud by the former police chief to state authorities. Beatty v. Ohioville Borough, et al, No. 2:14-cv-00067, 2nd am. complaint (W.D. Pa., Jul. 25, 2014). The police chief eventually pled guilty to theft and forgery for submitting fraudulent timesheets. Several defendants moved to dismiss the suit, arguing in part that they could not be sued in their official capacities. The court disagreed, finding that Congress intended to allow lawsuits to hold public officials individually liable for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The plaintiff is a part-time police officer in Ohioville Borough, Pennsylvania. He reportedly found evidence that the police chief was defrauding taxpayers and took this to the Pennsylvania State Police in August 2012. A criminal investigation led to allegations that the chief submitted fraudulent timesheets over a three-year period, costing taxpayers over $45,000. He was charged with 63 felony counts of forgery and one felony count of theft in February 2013. The Ohioville Borough Council voted unanimously in January 2014 to allow him to retire instead of firing him. He pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of theft and forgery in September 2014.

While the police chief’s saga was unfolding, the plaintiff claims that he faced retaliation by borough officials, including the mayor, the assistant chief of police, the solicitor, and the members of the Borough Council. He claims that he was denied a promotion in August 2012, shortly after he went to the state police, and that he was suspended in October without good cause. The mayor allegedly “encouraged private citizens to file false and fraudulent complaints” against him during this time period. Beatty, complaint at 7. The plaintiff was suspended again in January 2013, allegedly without any explanation or opportunity to respond. He was placed back on the schedule again in March but suspended indefinitely on March 17 for reasons he claims were pretextual.

The plaintiff filed suit against the current and former mayor, the solicitor, the assistant police chief, and the borough itself in federal court in January 2014. He amended his complaint in July to add members of the Borough Council. He is asserting three causes of action under § 1983, including violations of his First Amendment rights of free speech and access to the courts and his rights under Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985). Government employees are entitled to due process prior to termination or severe discipline. This includes an opportunity to rebut evidence against them, known as a Loudermill hearing.

The solicitor and the council members moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing in part that the plaintiff had only sued them in their official capacities, which is legally the same as a suit against the borough. The court ruled that suits may be brought under § 1983 against officials either in their individual capacity or as representatives of a government entity. It found that the plaintiff had adequately pleaded a case against the defendants in their individual capacities.

If you need to speak to an employment law attorney in New Jersey or New York regarding retaliation, discrimination, or another violation of state or federal employment law, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Former Public Employee’s Favor in Whistleblower Retaliation Case, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 30, 2014
Professor, After Denial of Tenure, Alleges Retaliation for Speaking Out in Support of Students’ Campaign Against Campus Sexual Assault, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, July 10, 2014
New York City Teacher’s Petition for Reinstatement Claims Retaliation, Wrongful Termination, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, July 9, 2014

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