City, Tripp settle lawsuit for $10,000

Published 8:59 am Thursday, December 2, 2010

Contributing Editor

The City of Washington and James Allen Tripp, a former city employee, have settled a lawsuit filed by Tripp against the city. Tripp was paid $10,000 by the N.C. League of Municipalities Interlocal Financing Fund of North Carolina for a full release of all claims against the city.
“The City denies any liability to Mr. Tripp” reads a statement released by the city.
Tripp, who began working for the city in March 2007, has filed dismissal with prejudice of the lawsuit he filed with Beaufort County Superior Court on Dec. 30, 2009. That means Tripp cannot file another lawsuit on the same claim.
Washington is a member of the NCLM, which provides self-funded insurance services, including liability coverage, to its members.
The settlement, in part, was the result of a mediation process presided over by Marshall Gallop Jr., a Superior Court mediator based in Rocky Mount.
In the lawsuit he filed, Tripp, the former enterprise-funds manager for the city, contends he was wrongfully terminated by the city because he ran for the District 3 seat on the Greenville City Council in 2007. The lawsuit noted that the city’s personnel policy in effect at the time prohibited a city employee from “being a candidate for nomination or election to office only under Defendant’s City Charter.” Tripp was not elected to office.
The lawsuit also contended that on Oct. 22, 2007, City Manager James C. Smith e-mailed Tripp a copy of the International City/County Management Code of Ethics. Tenet 7 of the that code prohibits professional administrators of cities and counties from participating in political activities which undermine political confidence, according to the lawsuit, which noted that Tripp was not an ICMA member.
Tripp receive a termination letter from Susan Hodges, the city’s human-resources director, on Dec. 31, 2007, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendant’s termination of Plaintiff contravened North Carolina’s express public policy” as stated in the N.C. General Statutes, reads the lawsuit. The purpose of the specific segment of the N.C. General Statutes cited in the lawsuit is “to ensure that employees are not restricted from political activities while off duty,” reads the lawsuit.
Tripp contended that his participation in political activities while off duty and in the county of his residence was a substantial factor in the city’s decision to terminate his employment with the city.
The lawsuit contended that Tripp was damaged in a sum exceeding $10,000.
Tripp sought a court judgment in excess of $10,000, for the city to pay his legal expenses associated with the lawsuit, a trial by jury and further relief as a court may deem just and proper.
In its answer to the lawsuit, the city listed 11 defenses. In its answer, the city denies Tripp’s allegation of wrongful termination.
The city contended Tripp failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted as to all or part of the allegations in the lawsuit.
“Defendant’s actions, practices and policies about which Plaintiff complains are and have been based on legitimate business reasons and have been necessary to the orderly, safe and efficient management of its employees,” reads the city’s answer to the lawsuit.
The city contended it did not deprive Tripp of any rights protected by the N.C. General Statutes.
The city also contended that Tripp was legally barred from seeking election to or holding office as a member of the Greenville City Council. “To the extent that Plaintiff’s actions constitute a violation of law, Defendant pleads illegality as a defense,” reads the city’s response to the lawsuit.
Tripp contended the city waived its sovereign immunity by buying a policy or policies of liability insurance. As a defense of its actions, the city pled “the doctrine of governmental and/or sovereign immunity as a bar, in whole or in part, to Plaintiff’s causes of action.”