City of East Lansing Makes “Bizarre” Job Offer to Whistleblower It Fired

Thursday, May 30, 2019, 7:51 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

The City of East Lansing has just offered a new job to Troy Williams, the health-and-safety whistleblower that the City fired on December 31. But Williams’ attorney tells ELi the method and contents of the job offer are “bizarre” and “outrageous.”

The job offer, for work in the City’s parking system, was simply mailed to Williams – not sent to his attorneys, and not even sent by registered mail.

It offers a job that pays 60 percent less per hour than what he had been earning as a mechanic at East Lansing's wastewater treatment plant, the job he had when he was fired. The job offered, for work as an East Lansing "Parking Ambassador," comes without benefits or union protection, both of which he had in his terminated position.

Paying $10.25 per hour, it's a half-time job — for 20 hours a week — not full time like his last position. It would require working one five-hour shift starting at noon on Friday and then three overnight shifts, from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m., on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Attorney Manda Danieleski is representing Williams in his wrongful termination lawsuit against the City. She tells ELi she believes this is simply an attempt on the part of the City to say it offered him a job in order to reduce what he might obtain in damages via the courts.

In her Dec. 31, 2018, termination notice to Williams, East Lansing’s Human Resources Director Shelli Neumann told Williams the reason for termination was because “you are unable to return to work without restrictions that we can accommodate.”

But now Neumann is offering Williams a job that, according to the City’s website, has been open since two months before the City terminated Williams under the claim it had no job to accommodate him.

According to the new job offer letter, signed by Neumann, “The physical requirements of this job are within the work restrictions you currently have of no lifting greater than 10 pounds and not working within an enclosed environment with fumes.”

Neumann is referring to two work-related disabilities that Williams developed at the City’s wastewater treatment plant, both of which he says were caused by unsafe working conditions.

He has a torn bicep from lifting a heavy object, an injury he says occurred when a small crane could not be used because it had not been properly inspected according to the safety schedule.

Williams also has asbestosis in his lungs. The City had a 2007 report showing there was friable (dangerous) asbestos in many locations in the plant. But for seven years the City's managers did not follow the report’s instructions: to put up signs marking the dangerous locations, to abate the asbestos, to train the workers, and to properly equip them to keep them safe.

All that was required by the law.

The City only took action after Williams alerted county and state agencies in early 2014 about the asbestos. He found out about the disregarded asbestos report around the same time he also blew the whistle on a cover-up of a mercury spill at the plant.

He has said he did so over fear for his and his co-workers' health, as some plant workers were showing signs of mysterious illnesses.

Williams has also said he believes he was fired not only because he had repeatedly blown the whistle on health and safety violations at East Lansing’s wastewater treatment plant, but because the City knew he would keep doing it until workers and citizens were safe.

Neumann and the City's hired attorney have not responded to questions from ELi about the latest development.

Williams has received formal, non-committal acknowledgements from the offices of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in response to his requests that they look into what happened at the plant and to him as a whistleblower.

Sworn into office the day after Williams was fired, Whitmer and Nessel have both been vocal about the need to support workers who report wrongdoing. Williams notes that the very first executive order signed by Whitmer was aimed at "protecting public health, safety, and welfare," including by requiring reporting of dangerous noncompliance with health and safety laws.

On social media, citizens from around Michigan have expressed support of Williams. At the May 7 meeting of City Council, East Lansing resident John Kloswick spoke during the public comment period about the situation.

Kloswick said he believes that “it is a disgrace that the reward for prodding our City to protect the health and safety of its employees by simply complying with the law could be the loss of one’s job and even the loss of medical insurance that might help to ameliorate chronic conditions due to the City’s misconduct.”

Kloswick urged the Council “to reach a quick settlement with Mr. Williams in which the City takes responsibility for such harm as is due to negligence by its supervisory employees.” He also urged Council “to pass a resolution thanking and commending Mr. Williams for his efforts to get our City to obey the law.”

Kloswick said it would be better to pay people’s medical expenses than to pay lawyers to challenge their rights. (The City has spent over $200,000 on lawyers fighting Williams and his coworkers.)

In response to Kloswick, Mayor Mark Meadows said he could not comment because of the pending litigation. Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann said that when the litigation is over, the Council will have an opportunity to talk about the details of Williams’ case, “to clarify some of the confusions that I think are out there.”

Williams tells ELi that he found Kloswick’s public statement about his situation deeply moving. He says the City treated him and the other plant workers who brought forward concerns as if they were the violators.

“But we were the people who brought it to light, and they never acknowledged us as doing the right thing.”

Read the background on this story here.

 

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