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Lawsuit: Anderson mayor fired 10 workers over politics

May 4, 2012

A central Indiana mayor is fighting a lawsuit filed by 10 former city employees who claim they lost their jobs because they backed his opponent in last year's election.

The federal lawsuit filed by the former Anderson employees against Republican Mayor Kevin Smith argues that their dismissal by the city violated their rights to political activities, The Herald Bulletin reported Friday.

The lawsuit said the workers all publicly supported then-Mayor Kris Ockomon, a Democrat, in the 2011 election and that three of them are Democratic precinct committee representatives.

City attorney Jason Childers denied that the workers had been wrongly terminated. He said he wouldn't give specifics on each case, but that the city could dismiss workers in confidential or policy-making positions or for performance reasons.

"We feel we have valid legally supported reasons for doing what we did," Childers said. "We are confident it will come out that way in court."

Smith returned to the mayor's office in January after winning the November election rematch with Ockomon, who had unseated Smith in the 2007 election.

The lawsuit said the workers involved include a woman who had been the city's utility manager. In mid-December she took a job as a cashier because she was told she would be fired after working for the city for more than 10 years.

Others include the building superintendent for city hall and other facilities who had worked for the city for 24 years and a 33-year street supervisor/dispatcher for the city transportation system.

"Kevin Smith was responsible for the termination of all the plaintiffs because they opposed his election as mayor," the lawsuit said. "Plaintiffs were fired because of their political activities, which were protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."

The lawsuit said all the workers met or exceeded job expectations and that none of them held policy-making positions in the 56,000-person city about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

Another federal suit was filed in mid-March on behalf of two other former employees claiming "retaliatory and unconstitutional discharge" from their jobs.

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