The city of Flint has won a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former city administrator.
Natasha Henderson filed the lawsuit after she was fired in 2016. She claims she was fired for asking questions about Mayor Karen Weaver’s 527 political fund.
After deliberating for a few hours Tuesday afternoon, the jury disagreed.
Weaver welcomed the jury’s decision.
“It’s taken a lot away from me and from the city in getting work done,” Weaver told reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse in Detroit, “I’m glad the jury saw it the way they did.”
The jury had to make three determinations to decide if Henderson’s firing violated laws protecting whistleblowers. The jury found that Henderson had acted appropriately in asking Flint’s city attorney about the mayor allegedly directing a city worker to push prospective water crisis donors to give to her 527 political fund. The jury also agreed that Henderson had suffered financially from being fired.
But the eight person jury disagreed that Henderson was fired because she asked questions about the mayor’s political fund.
Attorney Maurice Jenkins represented the city in the lawsuit.
“(Henderson’s lawyers) had the burden of proving that the mayor made this decision because Ms. Henderson had complained about unethical conduct,” Jenkins told reporters. “We were able…to establish that that didn’t happen.”
The city argued Weaver fired Henderson after she learned that the former city administer had been informed in March 2015 about a deadly Legionnaires' Disease outbreak in Genesee County, but had not acted. The mayor became aware that Henderson had been informed about the outbreak from a newspaper article that was published at the same time Henderson was asking about the mayor's political fund.
Henderson had been seeking $452,000 in back wages, plus future lost wages and damages for emotional suffering.
Attorney Katherine Smith Kennedy represented Natasha Henderson in her lawsuit. She says they are disappointed in the decision.
“But we do take comfort from the fact that the jury found that Natasha did the right thing…and made a good faith report of a suspected violation of the law,” says Kennedy.
Henderson spoke briefly after the verdict was read.
“I believe I can move forward now,” Henderson told reporters. “In the sense that my voice has been heard.”
Henderson’s attorneys are not ruling out a possible appeal.
Meanwhile, Karen Weaver can now turn her focus to her re-election campaign. Weaver is facing a couple of challengers in the August primary.
Weaver’s critics expect Henderson’s allegations will be an issue in the campaign.