A Metro government employee who filed a “whistleblower” lawsuit against the city now says he is being forced to take a mental health evaluation or lose his job. In an injunction filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, Shane Sidebottom, an attorney for Public Works employee Eric Garrett, asks a judge to prohibit the city from ordering his client to undergo psychiatric testing prior to returning to work after he filed a retaliation lawsuit.
“They’re trying to get my client to go a psychiatrist who specializes in criminal forensics to determine if he’s criminally insane. And if he doesn’t go, they’re going to charge him with insubordination so they can fire him.” says Sidebottom. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
In a letter sent to Garrett’s attorney on July 19, Assistant Jefferson County Attorney Mark Miller says the city retains the discretion to determine when and under what circumstances an employee can be required to appear for a fitness for duty evaluation and that no justification is required for such referrals.
“Mr. Garrett controls when, and if, he will return to work by deciding whether or not he will appear for the fitness for duty evaluation, which has been previously scheduled twice but your client has not appeared,” Miller wrote. “Continued failure to appear for the evaluation may be deemed insubordination.”
A spokesman for the county attorney’s office was unavailable for comment.
Garrett’s whistleblower case stems from the city’s pledge to save millions of dollars by taking steps to make city structures more energy efficient. Last year, Garrett, who works on maintenance in the public works department, generated work orders on hundreds of pieces of equipment to help the city go green, but claims that work never occurred.
In August 2009, he complained to his boss, Public Works Director Ted Pullen, claiming the city wasn’t properly maintaining mechanical systems on city-owned buildings.
In February 2010, after having no luck with Pullen, he called the city’s anonymous 24/7 ethics tip line to make a report. Eventually, Garrett met with Metro government officials, including Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, who is running for mayor, hoping to see the work begin.
After meeting with city officials, however, Garrett was suspended indefinitely and without pay after another Metro employee filed a complaint against him. At the time, no further information about that complaint was given to Garrett or his attorney, other than he was “being mean” to a colleague.
However, in a letter from a public works supervisor that was provided to LEO Weekly, an investigation conducted by the city alleged Garrett threatened violence against another employee. But Sidebottom says his client had filed a complaint against that employee first, yet only Garrett was suspended even after co-workers provided statements saying Garrett was the one being harrassed
Among other things, the psychiatric test evaluation would require Garrett to take a Rorschach test with a criminal investigator present, which is an invasion of his privacy, says Sidebottom, adding his client has never had mental health issues in his life.
“They didn’t request this evaluation until four day after the initial lawsuit was filed,” he says. “It basically says they as the government have the right to order any employee to see a psychiatrist. And that’s what struck me. If the government were to win on that it would be unlimited power to order someone to see a psychiatrist against their will.”
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Garrett, who has been a Metro employee since 2004, has spoken up about screw-ups in a city department. In January 2006, while working as a kennel attendant with Louisville Metro Animal Services, he wrote an open letter to former Director Gilles Meloche, who resigned last year amid a number of controversies and is the subject of two sexual harassment lawsuits.
“Appeals for you to soberly assess and deal with our incapacity to support these animals are met by indifference, incompetence and occasionally the farcical pretense of superiority,” Garrett wrote in a follow-up e-mail addressed to “The Masters of Disaster.”
“It’s clear to me that management has no clue what effort and skills and resources are involved in trying to support such a dense concentration of animals, even to keep things reasonably decent,” he wrote.
About six months later, Garrett was transferred to Public Works for an unknown reason.