A former District of Columbia government employee who claims her supervisors tried to fire her because of testimony she gave before the D.C. Council can continue pursuing a suit under a law designed to protect whistleblowers, a federal judge ruled yesterday.
Christina Conyers Williams, who worked for D.C.'s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, a D.C. Department of Health agency that offers substance abuse prevention and treatment services, alleges that her bosses tried to have her terminated after she delivered negative remarks about a plan to adopt expensive new data software during a 2006 council oversight hearing.
Williams was responsible for the implementation of new computer program meant to track the recovery agency’s clients. Court documents state that during the oversight hearing, she told at-large Council member David Catania that the multi-million-dollar project was months behind schedule and would collect less information than expected. Afterwards, she claims her superiors became antagonistic and unsuccessfully tried removed her from her job for allegedly failing to comply with a District residency requirement, according court documents.
Williams filed suit in 2006, contending the attempted firing was retaliation for her comments before the counsel, and for a private meeting she allegedly held with Catania. She said her rights had been violated under the First Amendment and the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act.
After dismissing her First Amendment claims earlier in the case, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday that a fair jury could find that Williams’ council testimony was protected by the whistleblower act. Although the District’s lawyers argued that Williams did not reveal any new information in her remarks, and so shouldn’t have been covered as a whistleblower, Kotelly wrote that the Williams “disclosed specific evidence that a three million dollar software system was both largely ineffective and behind schedule.”
The judge noted that after Williams spoke, Catania suggested the possibility of filing a False Claims Act case against the software’s vendor.
Kotelly did dismiss Williams’ claims related to her private meeting with Catania, finding there was no evidence her bosses knew about their talk.
Brian Flowers, D.C. Council general counsel, said he was pleased by the judge’s ruling. “Hopefully that will encourage people to testify freely before the council knowing they are protected” by the whistleblower act, he said.
Williams’ lawyer, John Karl Jr. of Washington’s McDonald & Karl, said he and his client were “gratified by the decision” and were “looking forward to trial.” The D.C. Office of the Attorney General did not return a call for comment.