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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2003

Court tosses lawsuit by ex-Monroe employee

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has thrown out a three-year-old lawsuit that claimed Monroe County illegally fired a former computer network administrator for monitoring the electronic mail of county administrator Charlie Londo.

Donald Mannix was terminated by the county Jan. 7, 2000, after he had alleged that Mr. Londo had an improper business relationship with former county Information Systems Director Jeff Katke and had shown an e-mail from Mr. Katke to Mr. Londo expressing a desire to fire Mr. Mannix.

After his termination, Mr. Mannix filed suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit alleging, among other things, that the county had terminated his employment illegally and asking for protection under Michigan s Whistleblower s Protection Act.

A jury found that Mr. Mannix had been wrongfully discharged and awarded him $80,000.

The county appealed the decision as a matter of law, saying because Mr. Mannix s original offer of employment clearly noted that he was an “at-will” employee and he had signed the letter, the county had every right to end his employment at any time and for any reason.

Mr. Mannix had maintained that his position could not be terminated without “just cause” and without having first endured other forms of progressive discipline that had been outlined in an earlier version of the county s employee manual, but the court disagreed.

“Michigan state law presumes that employment is at will, [Mr.] Mannix s employment contract expressly provided for employment at will, and numerous county policies stated that employment could be terminated by either party without cause,” the three-judge panel wrote. The decision dismisses Mr. Mannix s lawsuit and ends the $80,000 claim, which would have been paid by the county s insurance carrier.

“I feel phenomenal about the decision,” said Mr. Londo. “I feel that we were right, right from the start, and we just needed to get the court to see that. It should have never gone that far. That whole case should have been tossed the minute it hit the court. [The at-will employment issue] was too obvious to be overlooked.”

Temperance attorney Les Nearpass, who represented Mr. Mannix, could not be reached for comment.



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