Thursday, September 14, 2023

Wayne vs. Miller lawsuit goes to appeals court

While the City of Wayne lawsuit against former Councilman Anthony Miller was dismissed Aug. 30 by Third Circuit Court Judge Sheila Gibson, a counter claim by Miller will be heard by the Michigan Court of Appeals and could establish a legal precedent.

Miller is claiming discrimination by city officials and is demanding redress under the Elliott Larsen Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or sexual orientation. The city argument is that Miller, as an elected official, was not a city employee and therefore not afforded those protections.

Miller's attorney, James Rasor of the Rasor Law Firm, strongly disagrees with the city argument noting that the city “ruthlessly attacked” Miller and he is entitled to the same protections as “usual employees.” Should the appeals court find in Miller's favor, it could establish a legal precedent for other elected officials, Rasor said. 

The city lawsuit claimed that Miller, now 64, had breached his fiduciary responsibility to the city when he provided a hostile work environment investigation report to Michigan State Police as part of a criminal investigation. The 2018 report dealt with the conduct of former City Manager Lisa Nocerini and concluded that she should be disciplined up to and including termination. The city lawsuit alleged that the report was a confidential work product.

The judge dismissed the claims of the city noting that the statute of limitations had expired before the suit was filed and that the city allegation that the report was ever confidential was disproven by a video tape of a city council meeting in which the posting of the report on the city website was discussed and approved by officials. 

According to Rasor, there is a currently motion before Gibson requesting that Miller be granted attorney fees and costs along with other sanctions. That means, Rasor said, the judge could decide to levy some punishment against the city for “acting in bad faith.” The bad faith, Rasor explained, would be the proof presented during the trial that city officials knew the report was not confidential before the lawsuit was filed.

Rasor said the issue before the appeals court claiming discrimination would establish the employment status of Miller and other elected officials, determining if they are in fact municipal employees. While elected officials are not traditional employees, he said, the city should not be able to arbitrarily attack and discriminate against them without consequences. They should be afforded the same protections as “usual employees” Rasor said. 

Miller, who was appointed to the city council in December of 2015 and re-elected twice, resigned his position in June of 2021 during the COVID pandemic and moved out of state. While he said he was hesitant to make any comment on the current situation, he said his treatment by other city officials was a factor in his resignation. Miller added that he “glad to see this over with” and that he felt vindicated by the judge's ruling.

The investigative report concerning the conduct of Nocerini has also been accepted as evidence in three separate ongoing legal proceedings. 

Resident Mark Blackwell is charging Nocerini and Police Chief Ryan Strong with violations of his civil rights. He claims Nocerini motivated Strong to falsely arrest him for speaking out at public meetings regarding the findings in the report. Nocerini claimed that Blackwell was stalking her by speaking to other residents in the city hall parking lot following council meetings and driving behind her on Wayne Road. 

Blackwell was found not guilty of all those allegations and he is now pursuing legal redress from the city based on violations of his civil rights. 

In a separate lawsuit, Wayne police Ofc. Abraham Hughes also claims Nocerini interfered with the police chief selection process by insisting Blackwell be arrested. He alleges he refused to make the arrest and claims that despite higher test scores, Strong was promoted to the chief's job after arresting Blackwell. 

The report is also part of a criminal charge against former Councilman Christopher Sanders who is charged with criminal stalking by Nocerini. He is facing a jury trial on the charges next month.

Nocerini resigned her position last month.