Gov. Kenneth Mapp has filed to dismiss a whistleblower, wrongful termination lawsuit by former Special Assistant Attorney General Laverne Mills-Williams, arguing she was an exempt, at-will employee and that she is not a "whistleblower" as defined in the law. [Mills-Williams Motion To Dismiss]
Mills-Williams was deputy legal counsel in the Office of the Governor when she released information on what seemed to be extravagant personal expenses for dining, drinking and travel, paid for by the Office of the Governor, rather than by Mapp’s salary. She released the information to local newspapers, including the St. Croix Avis, in response to requests under the V.I. Open Records Act.
On Oct. 5, Mills-Williams was transferred out of the Office of the Governor to other offices within the Department of Justice. A few days later, she received a letter saying she was terminated from her position in the Office of the Governor. Later in October, Mills-Williams filed suit, claiming she was terminated from her position at Government House improperly, for not agreeing to allow Mapp and his top aides to look over and vet the spending records before releasing them to the press.
According to court documents, her complaint contends the documents she released "verified that there had been improper spending of funds without the approval of the Legislature," among other things.
According to her complaint, while she remained employed at Justice, she was not paid, and was later placed on unpaid administrative leave.
In his motion to dismiss, Mapp argues Mill’s claims do not meet the legal threshold for a whistleblower claim, because the V.I. law refers to releasing information to a "public entity," like a court or a government agency, and the St. Croix Avis is not a "public entity."
"The St. Croix Avis does not fall within the clear and unambiguous definition of public body in the WPA," Mapp’s attorneys write in their motion. "Since Plaintiff did not report any alleged violation to a public body, she did not engage in any conduct protected under the WPA," they conclude.
Mapp also argues that because Mills was assigned to respond to the Avis, she "cannot be characterized as a whistleblower for performing a task to which she was assigned."
Mapp’s attorneys cite a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case Carcetti v. Ceballos, in which a deputy was reassigned after writing a memorandum saying a criminal affidavit had serious misrepresentations and recommending the case be dismissed. The U.S. Supreme Court found his employers had the authority to take "proper corrective action," if they thought his memo was inflammatory or misguided.
"Thus, employees are not shielded from managerial discipline for expressions made while performing official responsibilities," Mapp’s attorneys write.
The tasks Mills-Williams did "were tasks she was hired to do. She does not become a whistleblower by producing documents in response to a document request or by complaining to her supervisor."
Mapp also argues that retaliation has to come from a third party, so it was proper for Mills-Jones’ immediate superiors to dismiss her for not following their directions, as they are not a "third party."
Mills-Williams argues in her complaint that she was hired based upon misrepresentations.
Mapp’s motion to dismiss quotes Mills-Williams saying she left her previous job on the basis of representations to her that "this administration was going to be unlike other administrations and that it as going to be ethical, do all actions by the book and be a reputable administration."
Mapp’s attorneys argue in response, "These allegations cannot form the basis of a misrepresentation claim as they are statements as to future events and expectations."
Mills-Williams claims Mapp interfered with her employment contract, but Mapp argues there was no contract.
"In the Virgin Islands, the hiring of a public employee does not automatically create a contractual relationship," his attorneys write.
"As an exempt employee, Plaintiff can be terminated without cause, and she has no property right in continued employment," they argue.
All of the arguments in the motion to dismiss appear to apply to Mills-Williams dismissal from the Office of the Governor, which is the subject of Mills-Williams lawsuit.
After she filed suit, Mapp terminated Mills-Williams from Justice and issued a statement saying she was terminated for her "association" with her own attorney, Lee Rohn.
According to Rohn, their "association" has been one of attorney and client, and began after Mills-Williams was terminated from the Office of the Governor and transferred to the Department of Justice.
"When he terminated Ms. Mills Williams employment she had never met me," Rohn said in a statement.
Whether that second termination is separate from the first, if her position at Justice was also exempt, "at will" employment, and if filing the court case counts as a "public body" for the purpose of the law are among the many issues the court will have to consider as it considers the motion to dismiss.