MERIDEN —Former City Manager Guy Scaife filed a federal lawsuit against the city Wednesday, accusing top staff and elected officials of engaging in a retaliation campaign against him that resulted in his termination.
The 25-page lawsuit, dated May 1, claims the City of Meriden, several of its employees, and elected officials, violated Scaife’s right to free speech and liberty, causing him financial and emotional hardship.
Scaife could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
City Council Democrats voted to fire Scaife “without cause” Dec. 18 in a 8-4 party-line vote, citing escalating discord within City Hall.
The lawsuit states Scaife began to question Finance Director Michael Lupkas’ ethics after discovering “questionable expenses” shortly after Scaife was hired in September 2016. These irregularities included “excessive” administrative costs to the Public Utilities department, the purchase of food and snacks for city employees, over $7,000 in massages for city dispatchers and allowing debt service for a $250,000 backhoe to be absorbed exclusively by the city’s inner district.
Scaife claims he brought his concerns regarding Lupkas to the City Council, which has the authority to terminate Lupkas, several times, however, the council did not vote to fire Lupkas.
“Once (Scaife) began raising his concerns regarding Lupkas’ unethical actions, he began to experience hostility from Lupkas and his supporters at City Hall,” the lawsuit states. “Lupkas’ supporters did not favorably receive (Scaife’s) disclosure of the financial issues and the escalation of those issues to city leadership and went to great lengths to prevent (Scaife’s) concerns from being heard.”
Lupkas Wednesday denied Scaife’s allegations against him.
“I don’t see how any reasonable person could come to that conclusion or have an expectation that I or anybody would be able to carry out everything that he is alleging,” Lupkas said.
The lawsuit claims Councilor Miguel Castro engaged in “unethical and illegal” conduct while acting as Finance Committee chairman by attempting to block Scaife from sharing proposed budget changes during a public meeting and holding “back door meetings” in violation of state Freedom of Information laws.
After Scaife attempted to bring Casto’s conduct to light, the lawsuit states, “an intense campaign of retaliation began against (Scaife) led by Lupkas, Castro and their supporters in the city, including (Corporation Counsel Mike) Quinn, and other department heads and at least one city councilor.” Scaife started to express retaliation concerns to the council in May, however, “due to lack of remedial action by city leadership, the retaliation escalated further,” the lawsuit states.
Scaife’s lawsuit accuses City Councilor Sonya Jelks of unethical conduct after Jelks blind copied emails to members of the NAACP, Castro, Quinn, City Attorney Deborah Moore and the Record-Journal. In September, Jelks “in collaboration with Quinn”, initiated a formal legal review of Scaife’s hire within the Human Resources Department, which he called “a non issue.” Two months later Scaife directed City Planner Bob Seale to investigate potential blight at Jelks’ home after Scaife said he received an anonymous call from a resident regarding unregistered vehicles on Jelks’ property.
Scaife also raised concerns to the council about “mysterious leaks” to the Record-Journal, which had received “confidential information regarding city business without going through proper channels,” the lawsuit states.
Scaife claims he was falsely accused by Purchasing Officer Wilma Petro and Economic Development Director Juliet Brudelski, “both supporters of Lupkas,” of improper conduct in connection with the city hiring a new insurance provider, leading to an investigation by an outside law firm which constituted a “waste of taxpayer dollars.” After the law firm cleared Scaife of wrongdoing, “Lupkas’ supporters escalated the identical matter that had been resolved by the outside law firm by way of a costly investigation to the FBI.”
Scaife raised concerns regarding Quinn to councilors, urging them not to reappoint Quinn as corporation counsel in December without success.
Prior to Scaife’s termination on Dec. 18, Scaife claimed Quinn threatened that the city would terminate him “for cause,” resulting in no benefits or payout, unless he signed a release giving up all legal rights. Scaife was ultimately terminated by the City Council without cause, which included a payout of $84,150 and continued benefits, including a cell phone, for six months. Scaife claims the city has withheld certain benefits to which he was contractually entitled post employment, including a $300 monthly car allowance and accrued vacation and sick time.
As a result of actions by city employees and elected officials, the lawsuit states Scaife suffered harm to his reputation, emotional distress, public humiliation, a loss of income, mental anguish and was forced to incur legal expenses.
Council Democratic Majority Leader David Lowell stood by the council’s decision to terminate Scaife without cause given the “totality of the discord”, noting broadly that “just because a lawsuit is filed doesn’t mean the claims are valid.”
“I do believe (the termination) was done fairly,” Lowell said. “I think it’s his right to file a lawsuit, so I respect his right and it will play out through the process…I believe separation of employment was in the best interest of the city as a whole.”
Jelks and Quinn declined to comment on the lawsuit.