Would You Fire Someone for Talking to the Press?
An IT contractor is claiming the state of New York fired and blacklisted him after he talked to the press when it withheld four months of his paychecks during the 2010 budget crisis.
In a lawsuit filed last week in district court, Stephen Anderson of Glenville, New York, is claiming the state violated his constitutional right to free speech and then retaliated against him. He's seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Anderson had been working for New York State "almost continually" for 20 years, according to court papers. He was first hired in 1990 as an independent contractor providing IT support for the social services department in Manhattan. He received "positive feedback...[and his] superior job performance is attested to by the fact that whenever a particular contract came to an end, he had no difficulty whatsoever in securing another contract."
This ended in July, 2010, when Albany media learned that New York had not paid their independent contractors for four months after the state legislature failed to pass the budget in April. Anderson was midway through a contract assignment with the New York State Chief Information Officer, in the Office for Technology in Albany.
Asked by a reporter from NBC affiliate NewsChannel 13 why he was still working when he hadn't been paid for four months, Anderson replied: What choice have you got in this economy? You can leave but can you get another job? It's basically a matter of working on trust that eventually we will get paid. ... I'm not too sure when my money does run out what we're going to do."
The interview aired on July 21, sparking tension in the office. Anderson said co-workers told him, "They don't like it when you talk to the media," and that his supervisor told him he shouldn't have spoken out.
Some two months later, on September 28, Anderson was called in to a meeting with three office managers, told he was not suitable for the job he'd been doing for the previous nine months, and fired. He says he received no warning that his work was unacceptable.
For more than a year, Anderson was unable to get an interview for a contract with any state agencies. Says the complaint: "He is convinced that he has been 'blacklisted' by New York State because he exercised his right of free speech."
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.
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