September 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Mullin keeps up fight for pay

Attorney says she has rights, airport has 'hung her out to dry'

Mullin (Detroit News file photo)

Detroit — Turkia Mullin's legal victories are piling up against her former bosses at the Wayne County Airport Authority.

One week after authority members learned that Mullin's bid for a $700,000-plus severance is still alive, an arbitrator ruled on Sept. 6 the airport must pay her $32,750 for legal fees in a case brought last year by union activist Robert Davis that sought to invalidate her contract.

But the arbitrator, retired Judge Paul Teranes, denied Mullin's bid to immediately qualify for lifetime health insurance. That issue — and whether Mullin can collect the balance of her airport contract — won't be decided until next year, Teranes ruled.

Mullin's attorney, Ray Sterling, said the airport has "hung her out to dry" since she was fired Oct. 31 as airport CEO, denying her basic benefits.

"They're trying to starve her out," Sterling said. "Whatever you might think of her, she has rights."

The Detroit News obtained arbitration orders through the Freedom of Information Act. They shed some light on the acrimony that followed the firing, but give no clues as to why Mullin was let go.

The FBI is investigating Mullin's hiring as part of its investigation into Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano's administration. She was the county's chief development officer and received a $200,000 severance when she left last September for the $250,000 post at the airport.

She was fired two weeks after the FBI served subpoenas on the county and is seeking the rest of her three-year airport contract on allegations she was illegally fired.

Documents supplied to The News show the FBI has secured all her emails during her two months at the airport.

Teranes ordered the airport to release a partial transcript of a closed meeting held immediately before the board voted to terminate her. Much of the transcript, however, was not released to parties in the arbitration because it involved discussions with attorneys.

The airport withheld the transcript from The News citing attorney-client privilege, but two sources who read it said members generally spoke well of Mullin in private before firing her in public.

One member suggested Mullin be placed on paid leave pending the FBI investigation. Another said officials with Delta — the airport's largest carrier — said Mullin did more in two months that all other airport directors combined.

"All it shows is them scratching their heads trying to find a reason to let her go," Sterling said. "It's utter chaos and confusion. They're scrambling to find a reason, but there was nothing."

Mullin's case was bolstered in late July when Teranes ruled that she had a legal contract. Authority members, who had sought to end the case by claiming the contract was void because the full board didn't approve it, didn't learn of Teranes' decision until recently.

Now, the case will hinge on whether members had just cause to fire Mullin. Whatever the outcome, taxpayers won't be on the hook, said airport spokesman Michael Conway.

"While the arbitrator ruled the contract was valid, the proceedings aren't over. They will continue for several months," Conway said. "The airport authority believes it has a valid case and will continue to defend itself vigorously."

jkurth@detnews.com

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