Former Flint official testifies on retaliation claims
The former Flint city administrator who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city for firing her testified, sometimes tearfully, about her termination by the mayor.
Natasha Henderson, before a jury Thursday in U.S. District Judge Sean Cox's courtroom, testified she was fired in February 2016 by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, two days after sending then-City Attorney Anthony Chubb an email about an "allegation of unethical conduct" by the mayor.
Henderson alleges she was wrongfully fired in retaliation after reporting that the mayor had asked a city employee to redirect water crisis donations into a political fund. Weaver has said the lawsuit contained "outrageously false claims."
Henderson said the dismissal was swift: Her insurance card didn't work for prescriptions and her assigned parking space had an SUV in what had been her spot.
Henderson said the mayor then began talking about the Legionella outbreak in Flint, seemingly pinned that on her, and told her that she didn't warn city officials quickly enough. Henderson said she fired back, saying, "That was not true."
"Mayor, I don't accept that," Henderson testified Thursday about what she said she told the mayor.
Legionnaires' disease outbreaks in the Flint area from 2014-15 killed 12 people and sickened another 79 people. It followed the lead-contaminated water crisis and critics and water experts linked the outbreak to the tainted water, but the state health department rejected the link.
A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulator sent an email on March 17, 2015, to several Flint officials with tips on how to "limit the potential for legionella occurrence" in the plumbing of homes. Henderson and then-Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose were both copied on the email.
Henderson had a meeting shortly after sending the email, she said, with the mayor, who had Chubb and the city's human resources director in her office, during which Henderson was given a termination letter.
Henderson testified that the mayor told her "... I met with the governor today and they said they can't pay your salary anymore, so I'm going to have to let you go."
That's when Henderson said she knew the governor, who had Flint under the direction of an emergency manager, did not pay her salary.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last fall that Henderson's whistleblower claims in a lawsuit against Weaver could proceed after getting dismissed by a lower court judge.
Questioning by Katherine Smith Kennedy, Henderson's lawyer, will continue on Friday, with cross-examination expected from defense attorney Maurice Jenkins.