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Judge dismisses former Flint official's lawsuit against city, Mayor Weaver

natasha henderson
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Former Flint city administrator Natasha Henderson (left) was suing the city and Mayor Karen Weaver for wrongful termination. She was relieved of her duties in 2016.

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming a former Flint city official was fired for accusing Flint Mayor Karen Weaver of corruption.

Former Flint City Administrator Natasha Hendersonfiled the case in federal court one year ago. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox ordered to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Henderson’s allegation against Weaver was not protected under the First Amendment.

In December 2014, Henderson left her job as city manager in Muskegon Heights to be the top administrator in Flint under former emergency manager Darnell Early.

But a little over a year later, newly elected Flint Mayor Karen Weaver fired Henderson, along with two other top city employees.

Henderson says Weaver fired her after finding out Henderson had raised concerns the mayor was acting unethically. The claim alleged that Weaver redirected donations from a Flint water crisis charity into a different fund controlled by the mayor.

Weaver calls the claims “outrageous” and “completely false.”

An independent investigationlater found no evidence of unethical conduct. Attorney Brendon Basiga ended the probe in June, announcing that there was no proof that the money had been mishandled.

Nevertheless, Henderson moved forward with her whistleblower lawsuit against the city. But Judge Cox ruled that since Henderson was issuing the complaint as a city employee, and not as a concerned citizen, her claim to whistleblower protection was not valid.

In the opinion, Cox wrote:

“Considering all of the relevant factors, Henderson’s speech to [Tony Chubb, Flint’s interim Chief Legal Officer] is not protected speech because it was made pursuant to her official duties rather than as a private citizen.”

Cox cited workplace discussions between Henderson and Chubb and Henderson’s use of her official title and work email as evidence that she was issuing her complaint as an employee.

Henderson’s attorney says they’re disappointed in the ruling and are considering other options.

In a statement, Mayor Weaver expressed her satisfaction with the dismissal:

“I am thankful the case has been dismissed. As I said from the beginning, the accusations made were ridiculous and completely false. I am relieved to be vindicated of these outrageous allegations. It is sad when people do things to try to assassinate a person’s character, but I am grateful the truth has finally been revealed.”

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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