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City Worker Says Local|Reporter Defamed Him

(CN) - A former City of Miramar employee says WPLG Local Channel 10 wrongly accused him of "double dipping," and subjected him to malicious and defamatory statements regarding his municipal employment.

Chris Payton retired from his position as Miramar's superintendent of utilities in February 2007, after 27 years with the city.

In a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County, Payton claims that after his retirement the city failed to live up to the terms of agreed upon managerial pension.

Despite being upset about this, he says his first thought was to avoid an expensive legal action for breach of contract. Instead, he agreed to an offer to return to city employment at a significantly reduced salary, which would equal the total compensation due to him under the pension, the complaint says.

He also offers another reason for his decision to rejoin the city staff under these terms -- he could not afford to return the already paid pension amounts that the city was asking back from him.

Payton returned to work in November 2007, in a position without benefits such as annual leave, sick leave and health care. Then, on March 18, 2013, the complaint says, defendant WPLG Local 10 broadcasted a segment on its 11 p.m. newscast that included malicious and erroneous statements him.

"Defendant [Reporter Bob] Norman made statements during the ... broadcast to the effect that plaintiff had been rehired by the City of Miramar because of favoritism due to his brother's Robert Payton status as City Manager, and that plaintiff was being paid an inflated salary for the same reason," the complaint says.

Payton claims that Norman accused him of engaging in improper government "double dipping" by seeking to obtain duplicative payment from the City; therefore causing it financial damages.

He goes on to say the defendants aired statements by city employee Paul Bennett, who made public wrongful accusations against him, and labeled his salary as unfair and improper.

The complaint says that when defendant Norman stated that "there is an allegation" claiming that Robert Payton was using the city to pay plaintiff's salary following his retirement, he failed to identify the source that made such allegation.

"Defendants further indicated that the reason Robert Payton resigned as city manager was because of Local 10's investigation of plaintiff's reemployment by the City," the complaint claims.

Payton says he knew what the station's allegations were going to be before the broadcast, and that his attorney contacted the reporter both in writing and by phone to explain exactly why his client had gone back to work for the city.

He says his counsel also clarified that any accusation made regarding Payton's rehiring was untrue and inaccurate, and he explained that there was no favoritism involved.

Despite his counsel's clarifications and requests, the complaint says, the defendants failed to investigate the matter further, and still broadcast false and defamatory statements against him relying on unexamined assertions made by Bennett.

The complaint says that on March 21, 2013, Payton's attorney sent a letter to the general counsel of the station, requesting copies of all information that went into the making of the segment, and also made himself available to answer any questions the station might have.

The letter went unanswered, the complaint says.

Payton claims that since the segment aired, defendants have continued to make and report false accusations against him, jeopardizing his reputation for integrity, and attributing improper and corrupt conduct to him.

The complaint alleged that September 2014, WPLG Local 10 aired more defamatory statements against Payton in news segments on TV as well as on its website. In each of these, Payton says, Norman and news anchors Hughes and Mohan disregarded the truth and his rights.

Payton claims that due to defendants' defamatory actions he suffered from anxiety, stress, alcoholism and his 27 years relationship with his wife was harmed. He and his family have also been subjected to humiliation caused by ongoing queries from co-workers, acquaintances and friends.

"As a result of the defamatory statements disseminated by defendants, the City, on October 7, 2013, unilaterally altered the terms of plaintiff's employment, substantially decreasing his hourly salary and the number of hours he is allowed to work," the complaint says.

Payton seeks $1 million in damages on claims of defamation by slander, defamation by libel, intentional invasion of privacy and unauthorized publication of name and photograph.

He is represented by Richard Klugh of Miami, Fla.


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