Lansing – A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a whistleblower lawsuit against Flint Mayor Karen Weaver filed by a former city official who alleged she was fired for raising alarms over possible misuse of water crisis contributions.
Former City Administrator Natasha Henderson sued Weaver and Flint in May 2016, claiming she was wrongfully terminated two days after sending then-city attorney Anthony Chubb an email asking him to look into an “allegation of unethical conduct” by Weaver.
But District Court Judge Sean Cox permanently dismissed the three-count complaint, ruling Henderson did not prove Weaver knew of her complaint before firing her.
“The Court concludes that Henderson has not produced sufficient circumstantial evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that Weaver knew of Henderson’s complaint to Chubb before she fired Henderson,” Cox wrote.
It’s one of two prominent whistleblower suits filed against Weaver, who took office in November 2015 in the midst of the Flint water contamination crisis and faces a recall election this fall. Former City Attorney Stacy Erwin Oakes was fired in January and sued Weaver in April.
Weaver denied Henderson’s claims when she filed the lawsuit, calling it “outrageously false” and accusing Henderson of trying to “taint” her as she worked to address the city’s public health crisis. She echoed those comments Wednesday, saying she is thankful the case has been dismissed.
“As I said from the beginning, the accusations made were ridiculous and completely false,” the mayor said in a statement. “I am relieved to be vindicated of these outrageous allegations. It is sad when people do things to try to assassinate a person’s character, but I am grateful the truth has finally been revealed.”
Henderson had emailed Chubb one day after a purported conversation with Weaver’s administrative assistant, Maxine Murray. Murray “fearfully” told Henderson that Weaver had asked her and a volunteer to direct water crisis contributions into the mayor’s political fund, Karenabout Flint, according to the lawsuit.
Chubb was serving as interim chief legal officer during Henderson’s suit and said he was seeking the permanent appointment. Henderson speculated he gave Weaver a “preview of information about her accused malfeasance” in order to “curry favor.”
But Chubb testified he did not tell Weaver about the matter before Henderson was fired. Henderson also told then-financial adviser Jody Lundquist, who similarly testified that she did not tell the mayor because she did not think it would be appropriate to do so.
“Henderson seeks to prove Weaver’s knowledge by circumstantial evidence,” Cox wrote.
The judge on Wednesday also dismissed a First Amendment claim by Henderson, ruling that her speech was not constitutionally protected because she was operating in an official government capacity, not as a private citizen.
Similarly, Cox ruled Weaver was entitled to “absolute immunity” against defamation claims by Henderson, who alleged the mayor made false statements about her after her firing.
“Weaver is entitled to immunity because her alleged statements were made in the scope of her executive authority,” the judge wrote in his 30-page opinion.