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Court Resurrects Vendor’s Retaliation Claim

(CN) - A former vendor for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power won another shot at trying to prove his claim that department employees threatened him when he publicly criticized the department's bidding process.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit vacated a ruling for the department, reviving a retaliation lawsuit filed by Candido Marez.

Marez served on the Small and Local Business Advisory Committee, a group established by the Los Angeles City Council to give business owners a forum in which to voice their concerns. After joining a subcommittee charged with overseeing large business contracts, Marez said he started receiving complaints from business owners about the Department of Water & Power's bidding and contracting practices.

When Marez spoke out publicly about the complaints, he claimed he started receiving anonymous phone calls and voice mails, which stated, "you're f-cked, you're really f-cked," and "Candy, leave it alone. Enough is enough. You're going to lose business."

Marez said he recognized the voice on the messages as belonging to Ralph Eshom, a department employee who handles bidding and contracting.

The district court dismissed Marez's retaliation claims on the basis that he had shown no evidence of adverse action.

But the Pasadena-based appellate panel vacated and remanded, ruling that Marez was acting as an agent for public concern, and that "he spoke in an official capacity on matters within the scope of his duties as a member of the Small and Local Business Advisory Committee."

"While the scope, severity and consequences of DWP's actions are belittled by defendants, we have cautioned that 'a government act of retaliation need not be severe ... [nor] be of a certain kind' to qualify as an adverse action," Judge Louis Pollak wrote.

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