SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A courthouse security officer was fired for complaining about unfit and poorly trained co-workers and lax security at federal courthouses, the man claims in court.
Gary Romano sued Akal Security in Superior Court, alleging wrongful termination and retaliation.
Akal Security has a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to protect federal courthouses throughout the country. It announced in 2011 that it had won twelve 5-year contracts worth a total of $1.6 billion to provide and manage court security for 12 judicial circuits, according to the complaint.
Romano, a veteran of the Berkeley Police Department, claims Akal fired him from his job as a court security officer (CSO) at a San Francisco Federal Courthouse.
He claims that Akal does not require any physical certification to work as a CSO, only that CSOs have a physical examination and that a doctor state they are fit for duty.
Romano says in his lawsuit that he complained every year since 2008 that Akal was not performing proper firing range qualifications. When he brought the attention to Dave Arata, lead CSO for the San Francisco Federal Courthouse, and site supervisor Joe Readman he was told "not to worry about it and that it was none of plaintiff's concern," he says in the complaint.
Neither man is named as a defendant. The only defendants are Akal Security and Does No. 1-20.
Romano says his concern was heightened when a CSO was killed in the line of duty and another one injured while protecting Las Vegas Federal Courthouse, which was also an Akal-contracted facility.
"Akal was supposed to have officers that could, if necessary, be in sufficient physical shape that they could pursue and tackle a suspect if needed," Romano says in the complaint. "Akal was also supposed to ensure that the firearm carrying CSOs received proper weapons training and were certified at a shooting range."
Romano claims that "Akal's conduct in failing to provide qualified CSOs was tantamount to defrauding the federal government on the terms of its contract."
Romano says he was investigated and fired for abandoning his post after he and another CSO informed the Department of Justice and the Inspector General about the lack of firearms training and physical certifications.
He claims that he and another CSO cleared a food delivery for entrance without sending it through the magnetometer, which a delivery person said had not been done in five years. He says the food delivery people were known to the officers and were allowed to walk unaccompanied in private areas of the courthouse.
Romano claims that when he told site supervisor Russell Lopes that the delivery person told a CSO that his screening that day was the same as it had been for the past five years, Lopes asked which CSO had spoken with the delivery person, "because I am going to fire him if he comes forward with that information."
Romano claims that Lopes refused his request that he review videotape of a previous day when the food delivery was made, which would show another CSO screen the food in the same manner as Romano had, which Romano hoped would help plaintiff prove his innocence.
Romano says Akal fired him in May 2012, "motivated by plaintiff's participation in and cooperation with the IG's [inspector general's] investigation; and that his termination was performed by Akal at its own instance, or by its having influenced the USMS [U.S. Marshals Service] to revoke plaintiff's credential to perform work under the Akal-USMS contract."
Romano claims Akal had suspended him in 2008 for telling a clerk that her courtroom panic button did not work and "that it was a problem because many of the panic buttons were not functioning."
When he returned to work, Romano claims, the defendants gave him "a direct order that plaintiff could no longer discuss the status of panic buttons with anyone that was a courthouse employee."
He claims that Akal then sent a memo to all CSOs that they could not tell employees whether their panic buttons worked.
Romano says he eventually was paid for the time he was suspended and was exonerated from wrongdoing.
Akal settled the dispute about guard qualifications for $1.875 million, Romano says. He claims it was not the first time Akal had to settle a claim made by a whistleblower. In another instance Akal paid $18 million to settle claims that it failed to provide trained civilian guards at eight U.S. Army bases, Romano says in the complaint.
Romano is represented by Christopher LeClerc, with LeClerc & LeClerc in San Francisco.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.