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Federal Court Upholds Firing of Former DC Procurement Employee, Dismisses Dr. Gandhi from Suit

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Federal Court Upholds Firing of Former DC Procurement Employee, Dismisses Dr. Gandhi from Suit

CONTACT:  
Ted Gest
Public Information Officer
202-727-6283
ted.gest@dc.gov

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The District had legitimate grounds for dismissing Eric Payne from his position as Director of Procurement for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO), Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled today, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan announced.

In granting judgment to the District on the majority of Payne’s claims in a lawsuit against the District and Chief Financial Officer Dr. Natwar Gandhi, the judge also found that Payne could not show that his termination violated any law or that comments made in the press about his termination sufficed for “constitutional defamation,” which was the only remaining accusation involving Dr. Gandhi.  Because no claims remain against Dr. Gandhi, he was dismissed as a defendant.

Payne’s suit claimed that he was demoted, and ultimately terminated, because of complaints he made about the procurement process for a D.C. Lottery contract in 2008.  He also alleged that because of the publicity surrounding his termination he was unable to find work in his chosen field of procurement law, in violation of his rights under the Fifth Amendment.  The Court found that the District’s evidence that Payne was fired because he missed work and failed to complete assignments met the exacting “clear and convincing” standard required for a defendant to prevail under the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act by showing a legitimate reason for the alleged retaliatory action.

The Court granted judgment to the defendants on Payne’s constitutional claim because, contrary to his allegations, Payne worked in the procurement field since his termination.

Today’s ruling resolves most of the remaining claims in Payne v. District of Columbia, et al., filed in 2010.  What remains to be decided is Payne’s assertion that his demotion in June 2008 and certain related actions were also retaliatory.  This demotion curtailed Payne’s duties and he eventually lost some perks of his prior position, but he continued to receive his full salary until his dismissal in January 2009.

Although the Court declined to grant the District’s motion to dismiss these claims, it also rejected Payne’s motion for judgment in his favor.  These few remaining matters will be resolved in further court proceedings.

Attorney General Nathan said, “We are gratified that the Court has ruled in favor of the District on the key issues in this longstanding litigation, and we look forward to concluding this matter successfully, should Mr. Payne decide to pursue this case.”

David Umansky, a spokesman for Dr. Gandhi, said, “We are pleased that Dr. Gandhi has been removed from this legal action and that a judge established that he did not violate Mr. Payne’s rights.”  

The Attorney General commended Assistant Attorneys General Sarah Knapp and Keith Parsons for their representation of the District and Dr. Gandhi, supervised by Section Chief Grace Graham and Deputy Attorney General Ellen Efros.