Former Moab city manager Rebecca Davidson will now take her $2 million lawsuit against the city and Mayor Dave Sakrison to 7th District Court — after a U.S. District Court judge granted Moab City’s request Aug.9 to dismiss the charges in federal court.
There is still a provision, however, that Davidson has the right to re-file in state court and her attorney immediately re-filed the claim, asserting that Sakrison and Moab city acted with “malice, evil intent, and reckless or callous indifference” to her federally protected rights, terminating her in retaliation for whistleblowing misconduct within the Moab City Police Department.
The change of venue from U.S. District Court to state court is due to the city invoking a “forum selection” clause in Davidson’s original employment contract. City representatives also say her contract waived the right to a jury trial and said that any future court proceedings will be heard and ruled on solely by a state court judge.
“The City is pleased with the [U.S. District Court] judge’s ruling in our favor and looks forward to our day in court regarding the matter,” said City Manager David Everitt.
The case is currently assigned to 7th District Court Judge Lyle R. Anderson and does not yet have any dates set for court appearances.
Davidson’s lawsuit claims the reason she was placed on administrative leave, and subsequently terminated, was her “management style,” though she says that was a pretext for the “true reason” — retaliation for whistleblowing on misconduct in the Moab City Police Department.
The lawsuit also claims that Davidson broached many concerns to Sakrison, the city council and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding allegations of police officers lying while testifying in court, a lack of action by the department in response to threats against a citizen and officer harassment of witnesses.
“The mayor did not take appropriate remedial action to correct or otherwise address the issues raised by Ms. Davidson but, instead, sought to protect his friend, the chief of police and members of the police department, to the detriment of the citizens of the city and persons traveling through or visiting the city,” the lawsuit alleges.
Damages sought from Sakrison and the city include lost compensation as well as emotional pain and suffering, totaling at least $2 million.
Davidson’s attorney, Greg Stevens, said that they originally filed the complaint in U.S. District Court for the “wealth of experience” federal judges have with the civil rights claims in the lawsuit.
Although he says that the 7th District Court has “little if any experience with those federal legal principles,” Stevens remains “hopeful” that the venue will work for their case.
“Ms. Davidson is asserting the same claims, albeit in the court in Moab,” he stated.
Davidson was hired as the city manager in March, 2015 and assumed the position in April, 2015. Almost 18 months later, on Sept. 13, 2016, she was placed on paid administrative leave, at the discretion of Sakrison.
At the time, Moab City Recorder Rachel Stenta told The Times-Independent that the decision to place Davidson on administrative leave was “influenced” by internal issues raised by members of the Moab City Council.
“There were internal issues in the organization that the council determined needed to be evaluated,” Stenta said in September, 2016. “The council felt the process would be streamlined if the city manager were on leave. That was the reason behind the mayor’s decision.”
Davidson’s contract was then terminated “without cause” on Sept. 30, 2016. Under a provision of her contract that required the city pay severance if Davidson were terminated without cause, she received nine months pay, which amounted to more than $90,000, city officials have said.
Responding to Davidson’s notice of claim in February, Austin Riter, an attorney with Parr, Brown, Gee and Loveless, the law firm representing the city in the matter, argued that the allegations lack any legal or factual merit and remain “contrary to the actual investigatory evidence.”
“At the time the city placed Ms. Davidson on administrative leave with pay, city personnel had complained to the city about her managerial style and workplace behavior,” Riter wrote in February. “The reason that Ms. Davidson was placed on administrative leave with pay was so that the merits of those allegations could be fully and fairly investigated by outside employment counsel before the city made any decision whether or not to take any associated employment action concerning Ms. Davidson.”
Riter’s response depicts Davidson’s management style as “aggressive and divisive,” and says that a four-day investigation found she had problematic relationships with staff, difficulty managing her own assignments, and engaged in patterns of micro-management.
“ ... Given the nature and scope of the investigatory evidence and the at-will contractual relationship that governed Ms. Davidson’s employment, [the city and mayor] have every confidence in prevailing,” Riter said.
Davidson is also involved in another lawsuit, currently before the Utah Court of Appeals.
In September 2016, Davidson – as well as her roommate, Tara Smelt and Smelt’s company, Tayo, Inc. — filed a defamation lawsuit against five individuals, which included several residents of Moab.
Although part of that lawsuit involving two defendants was settled in February, a portion of the lawsuit involving the remaining three is ongoing in Utah’s appellate court.
Stevens says the court proceedings were recently tied up on supplemental findings needed from Moab’s 7th District Court, but anticipates the Court of Appeals will proceed to a decision about the case.