According to a court filing earlier this month, Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson is denying allegations by former Public Works Director Jennifer Fidler of wrongful termination, civil conspiracy, slander and other charges, and is seeking to have the case dismissed.
In late February, Fidler filed a seven-count complaint in state court alleging she was wrongfully terminated in April 2017 and subsequently harmed by her successor’s higher rate of pay and Wilson’s defamatory statements about her tenure. The case was moved to federal court April 5 and Wilson filed her answer to the complaint April 12.
Fidler claimed her termination was retaliation for witnessing an incident in which Wilson allegedly grabbed former Human Resources Director Pandora Heathcoe by the shoulders and shook her shortly after the mayor took office in 2016. In January 2017, according the complaint, Wilson called Fidler into another meeting where she warned her not to talk about the incident.
The next month, when Wilson allegedly informed Fidler she was going to be fired, Fidler claims she asked to be retained as city horticulturist until her scheduled retirement date on Jan. 1, 2018. Alleging minimal communication with Wilson after the request, Fidler said she subsequently took leave time and only learned she was fired after she filed a public records request to view her personnel file — which subsequently was found to contain a notice of termination effective the same day she requested the file.
Afterward, Wilson’s public statements about Fidler’s termination amount to defamation, slander and libel, according to the complaint, while Fidler also claims breach of contract and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), tortious interference with a business contract or agreement, civil conspiracy and “failure to equally compensate” due to Wilson’s hiring of a successor at a rate of pay “in excess of the Plaintiff’s salary and benefits for the position described and maintained by the City on or about Feb. 24, 2017.”
Fidler seeks compensatory and punitive damages, court costs and attorneys’ fees from both the city and Wilson individually.
In her answer to the complaint, Wilson acknowledged both meetings took place, but denies the alleged “shaking incident” and Fidler’s allegations about remaining quiet in the January meeting, as well as most of her other claims.
Wilson has filed motions to dismiss Fidler’s claims of failure to equally compensate and violations of FMLA, and argues Fidler fails to state claims where relief can be granted. Further, Wilson argued the complaint is barred by statute of limitations, the city and mayor are protected by qualified immunity and Fidler failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, among other things.
Fidler has until May 6 to respond to Wilson’s partial motion to dismiss.
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