Mich. jail staff file suit alleging wrongful termination
They say they were alerting their coworkers to their union rights, officials say they were interfering with an internal investigation
By C1 Staff
BAY CITY, Mich. — Two former Bay County Jail employees are suing Sheriff John E. Miller for alleged wrongful termination after they say they exercised their First Amendment rights amid an internal investigation into another employee’s alleged misconduct.
Former corrections officers Matthew Gillis and Fred Walraven are seeking damages in excess of $75,000, according to MLive.
They claim that their firings are retaliatory after they released a union memo stating that their fellow corrections officers had the right to a union representative with them if they were questioned by a superior officer in an investigation.
In December 2013, an internal investigation was underway after it was believed a jail employee had brought prescription mouthwash into the facility and instructed employees to give it to an inmate.
Gillis and Walraven discussed reporting the matter to the Bay County Human Resources Department, even though the investigation was being kept internal and conducted by the Michigan Sheriff’s Association Mission Team.
Gillis was then elected president of the Bay County correction officers’ union in January. He and Walraven issued the memo, which stated that they were not “advising you to not cooperate with management, just advising you of your rights,” according to MLive.
Sheriff Miller then accused Gillis of interfering with an ongoing investigation and threatened him with criminal prosecution over the posting of the memo.
Gillis then met with Undersheriff Troy Cunningham and was told that he could either be terminated or resign. Gillis chose to resign. Walraven, before Gillis’ “constructive discharge,” was indefinitely suspended.
Walraven was then officially fired on April 15, and is currently in arbitration seeking reinstatement.
Their suit alleges that their First Amendment rights to free speech and their rights under the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act were violated. Walraven’s suit also alleges that his rights under the Michigan Whistleblowers’ Protection Act of 1980 were violated.