Megan Griego, Fired Surprise Employee, Sues Over Claim That City Violated Her Right to Free Speech

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A woman who was fired by the city of Surprise after arguing against budget cuts in a public hearing is suing in federal court over the alleged violation of her free-speech rights.


Megan Griego had been working as an economic development coordinator for about three years when she decided to attend a weekend budget retreat on April 24 held at Surprise City Hall. During the call for public comment, she stepped up and argued against cuts to her department, pointing out that it had helped boost the local economy.


Wouldn't you know it -- that Monday morning, she found herself locked out of her workplace.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed yesterday:

When plaintiff Griego came to work at the City at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, April 26, 2010, she was locked out of the employee entrance to the building, her badge access was denied. She went to the first floor public entrance and spoke with the receptionist who informed Ms. Griego that her badge had been deactivated.

Ms. Griego then went to the fourth floor where she worked and learned that none of her co-workers' badges had been deactivated, only hers.

The next day, the suit states, department director Jeffrey Mihelich told Griego in front of another employee that, "I am just going to make this quick - we have decided to terminate your employment effective immediately."

She asked why they were letting her go, he he informed her that the city didn't need to give a reason.

According to an April Arizona Republic blog post about Griego's firing, the city planned to terminate all the employees in economic development and merge the department with Community Services.

Two contract employees were to be hired to carry out economic development duties, so Griego's job presumably would have disappeared, anyway.

Yet that's not quite what happened. The names of two men are listed as economic development coordinators in the city's directory, including one -- Mike Hoover -- who's bio says he's been with the department since February of 2008. The other, Al DeAngelis, has been the city's resource for small businesses for a few years.

(A quick aside of silliness: Griego's lawsuit, penned by Tempe attorney David Larkin, twice refers to Griego being granted free speech rights by the "Second and Fourteenth Amendments" of the U.S. Constitution. We're pretty sure he meant to write "First" Amendment.)

Neither Larkin nor Surprise officials returned our phone calls this morning.

(UPDATE: Larkin did leave a voice mail for us later, saying he was embarrassed about the Amendment error. He thanked us for pointing it out and later filed an amended complaint.)

Griego's looking for monetary compensation, plus punitive damages against her old boss, Mihelich.

Municipal bureaucrats across the Valley will want to watch this case, unless they're mindless robots programmed to speak only when commanded.


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8 comments
Mistalee
Mistalee

Brilliant! When the local economy is tanking, there's only one thing to do - eliminate the economic development department that was actually helping shore up the local economy.

linaimai
linaimai

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Darnoldduck
Darnoldduck

First Amendment gives right to freedom from interference with speech by government in U.S., but people holding guns speak freely most everywhere and can count on freedom from interference with speech by most rational human beings not holding guns.

Mikey1969
Mikey1969

//"She asked why they were letting her go, he he informed her that the city didn't need to give a reason."//

Ahhhh, don't we just LOVE 'Right to Work' states?

Murcielago
Murcielago

Bonanybay, yes, municipal and state employees are not subject to the "at-will" scheme; they have a property interest in their jobs protected by the 14th Amendment, and can't be fired without cause or due process.

botanybay
botanybay

What am I missing here? Did she enjoy some kind of protection against being let go "at-will" that others do not? They can fire you for not liking your shoes (and they do not even need to tell you why).

botanybay
botanybay

We're talking Surprise here. Want to know how to economically develop it? Don't stick a bunch of houses in the middle of the desert, far away from centers of employment and or other economic infrastructure. Suprise has just 3 options for commuting. Bell Rd / 101, Grand Ave/101 and 303/10. Good luck with that Surprise!

botanybay
botanybay

That's not universally true among municipal employees. Many of them are employedon an at-will basis. Scheme or not, it's legal.

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