(CN) – New York state fired and blacklisted a longtime IT contractor who talked to the press when it withheld four months of paychecks during the budget crisis, the ex-employee claims in federal court.
Stephen Anderson, of Glenville, N.Y., says he was first hired in 1990 to provide IT support as an independent contractor for the social services department in Manhattan. Because of his “superior job performance,” the state allegedly gave Anderson two decades of steady contract assignments.
All that changed in July 2010 when Albany press outlets learned that New York had not paid their independent contractors for four months after the state Legislature failed to pass the budget that year, according to the complaint.
Anderson said the story unfolded while he was in the middle a contract assignment with the New York State Chief Information Officer – Office for Technology in Albany. When a reporter from NBC affiliate NewsChannel 13 asked Anderson to talk about how the budget crisis affected him, he says he replied: “What choice have you got in this economy? You can leave but can you get another job? It’s basically a matter of working on trust that eventually we will get paid. … I’m not too sure when my money does run out what we’re going to do.” (ellipsis in original)
The station aired the interview at 6 p.m. at 11 p.m. on July 21, 2010, according to the complaint.
Anderson says he “made these comments as a citizen, concerned for the well-being of himself and thousands of other contractors working for Defendant who were not being paid,” and that his “comments concerned matters of public importance and had nothing to do with his particular duties in his contract assignment.”
The workplace grew tense after the segment aired, Anderson says, adding that co-workers told him, “They don’t like it when you talk to the media.”
His supervisor allegedly told him, “You should not have done that.”
Anderson says three office managers called him into a Sept. 28, 2010, meeting to tell him he would be terminated immediately – without explanation or warning.
He says it was first time in two decades he had ever been removed from a project.
“The Plaintiff was shocked and embarrassed by his termination, but he was confident that he would quickly find another contract position with New York State as he had for the previous twenty years,” the complaint states.
Though Anderson initially had “very positive” feedback about his future job prospects from representatives at Nfrastructure Technologies, a company that matches contract employees to New York state agencies, he says he could not get an interview for nearly a year.
“He is convinced that he has been ‘blacklisted’ by New York State because he exercised his right of free speech,” the complaint states.
The defendants are the state of New York, Chief Information Officer – Office for Technology, and the agency’s acting director, Daniel C. Chan.
Anderson seeks compensatory and punitive damages for First Amendment violations.
He is represented by Joseph Berger with the Murray Law Firm of Clifton Park.
Spokespeople for the state agency did not return a request for comment.