By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Two former Delray Beach city employees filed Whistleblower Act lawsuits against their former employer, the city of Delray Beach, alleging their resignations were forced by a “sham investigation” conducted by their supervisor.
The city’s Director of Neighborhood Community Services Department Michael Coleman and his assistant director, Jamael Stewart, allege in separate lawsuits filed on Aug. 13 that the city demanded their resignations on the spot or they would be publicly fired.
Now, they want their jobs back, full-back pay, attorney’s fees paid for and other damages covered that they endured due to the city and their supervisor “acting illegally toward them.”
Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus announced their resignations and a probe into the department’s distribution of grant money to various organizations in June.
The press release issued from the city stated that the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office and the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General would conduct investigations.
According to the lawsuits, there are no pending investigations. Rather, their supervisor, assistant city manager Suzanne Fisher, lodged complaints against them with those agencies. Typically, those agencies will not confirm or deny any ongoing investigations.
The lawsuits state that in 2016, Coleman with assistance from Stewart, began reporting malfeasance and waste of city funds under the direction of Fisher, who at the time was the Director of Parks and Recreation.
Fisher was promoted to assistant city manager in March 2019 and was then Coleman and Stewart’s supervisor. It was then, the suit alleges, that she began a “sham investigation” into the two employees.
Coleman’s suit calls his relationship with Fisher “antagonistic.” The suit said the problems date back to early 2016. Coleman and Stewart issued a request to the city to audit Fisher’s department. The memo indicated that the city was paying for trash collection and maintenance services that weren’t being performed by the vendor.
The suit said the relationship between Coleman and Fisher worsened over time and she filed a complaint against him with the county’s Office of Inspector General in late 2016 where she claimed Coleman was “bullying” her.
“The investigation resulted in a report that not only fully exonerated Coleman, the investigating official found Ms. Fisher to be specifically uncredible,” the suit states.
The suit also mentions an instance where Fisher requested money from their department and she “expressed great displeasure when she did not receive the monies she requested.”
The suit states several weeks after Fisher became their boss, the city “demanded their resignations” and they were not given any information or opportunity to explain or defend themselves or consider what they city was demanding.
Coleman and Stewart both hired attorney John Whittles.
City Attorney Lynn Gelin said the city will “vigorously defend” the suits.
City Public Information officer Gina Carter commented after the Delray Newspaper broke this story online last month. She stated, “The lawsuit and the story in the Delray Beach Newspaper are without merit and harmful to the reputation of Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher who is a dedicated and accomplished public servant.”