WASHINGTON (CN) – The former associate director of athletics in the District of Columbia’s Department of Parks and Recreation says he was fired because he pointed out, and objected to, Mayor Adrian Fenty’s twin boys playing in a Pee Wee basketball league though they were too old for it. And he claims that Fenty had a “senior staff person” call up and insist that Fenty’s over-age kids “were to play in the Pee Wee division.”
Pee Wee league is for kids 6 to 8 years old, Michael Williams claims in Superior Court. He sued Mayor Fenty, the District of Columbia, and his former boss, Department of Parks and Recreation Director Clark Ray.
Williams claims that “on or about February 11, 2009, staff members of DPR notified plaintiff that they were receiving calls from members of the public complaining about violations of the DPR rules. Specifically, callers complained that the twin sons of Defendant Fenty were playing, inappropriately, for Emery Playground’s team in the Pee wee division (for children aged 6, 7 and 8).
“Because Defendant Fenty’s children turned 9 on March 8, 2009, they are ‘league age’ 9 for the 2009 season, and ineligible to compete with the children in the Pee Wee division.
“During the February 11 discussion, the staff members of DPR told plaintiff they were concerned because they believed that Defendant Fenty was flouting the DPR rules that the DPR staffers were required to uphold with respect to all other participants in the youth leagues. They also reported that Sean Conley, a DPR senior staff person who is a personal aide to Mayor Fenty, had told DPR staff that Defendant Fenty’s sons were to play in the Pee Wee division. Plaintiff told the staffers that he would take responsibility to ensure that all participants followed the Rules.
“On or about February 13, 2009, Plaintiff learned of additional complaints from parents of younger children, concerned about Defendant Fenty’s violation of the rules designed ‘to provide a safe, healthy and positive environment for all youth participants’ with respect to favorable placement of his sons.
“On or about February 13, 2009, Plaintiff called Mr. Conley and asked about defendant Fenty’s children. Mr. Conley admitted that defendant Fenty’s children were playing in a younger division in violation of the rules. Mr. Conley confirmed that Defendant Fenty was aware of the violation.”
Williams says that when he tried to put the mayor’s kid in the older division where they belonged, the Pony League, “Defendant Ray snarled at plaintiff and told him that defendant Fenty’s children were going to continue to play in the Pee Wee division.”
Williams says he “asked an associate to call defendant Fenty in order to discuss the situation. The associate had no apprehension about calling defendant Fenty. However, defendant Fenty responded to the call by cursing and belittling the associate. The associate was still upset by the way he was treated when he reported Mayor Fenty’s responses to plaintiff the next day, February18, 2009.
“Plaintiff reasonably believed that the facts he disclosed to defendant Fenty via the associate evidenced both the abuse of authority in connection with the administration of a public program and the violation of a DPR rule or regulation.
“On Thursday, February 19, 2009, Plaintiff received a bundle of paperwork that had been sent to the DPR offices as the document submission for defendant Fenty’s sons. The documents have the handwritten names of each child and bold writing stating [begin boldface] ‘Mayor’s son.’ [End boldface.] The documents do not include birth certificates, nor parent signatures on the registration and waiver forms. Plaintiff explained to the staff member of the recreation center that he should ask defendant Fenty to complete the required paperwork, when he saw him next. The staff member replied that everyone was afraid to ask defendant Fenty to fill out the paperwork.
“On Monday, February 23, 2009 at about 4:00 P.M., plaintiff was called into the office of his supervisor, defendant Ray. He was told that he was being terminated on 15 days notice, although his separation would be ‘effective close of business Monday, March 9, 2009,’ i.e., only 14 days later.
“Upon receiving the notice of termination, plaintiff was placed on administrative leave, effective immediately. He was told to relinquish all keys, badges, paper based documents and computer based documents in his possession.
“Defendant Ray told plaintiff he was being let go for budget r6asons and affirmed that plaintiff was not being terminated for performance reasons. When plaintiff pointed out that the ‘budget’ explanation was illogical, defendant Ray admitted that the budget was a pretext for the dismissal, saying ‘you are smart and can figure it out.’
“In fact, plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for having made disclosures protected by the WPA when he raised concerns about defendant Fenty’s abuse of authority in connection with the administration of the DPR youth basketball league, a public program.
“In fact, plaintiff was not terminated for a ‘budget’ reason. No one else in the DPR was terminated at or around this time as a cost-cutting measure, the fiscal year 2009 budget has not been changed and no plan has been approved to reduce expenses by eliminating positions in DPR. Defendant Ray’s reliance on ‘budget’ reasons was a pretext to conceal the true reason, which was retaliation.”
Upon appealing his firing to higher ups in the District of Columbia government, Williams says, he was falsely accused, and defamed, by unfounded allegations of “embezzlement … in order to discredit plaintiff and to retaliate against him for his protected activities.”
Williams adds: “In fact, plaintiff has not committed embezzlement, nor has he been accused of embezzlement or any other misconduct.”
Williams demands punitive damages of $5 million for whistleblower violations, defamation, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is represented by John Clifford with Clifford & Garde.