A federal judge today rejected a request to toss Felix Arroyo's wrongful-termination suit against the city for the way Marty Walsh fired him as chief of health and human services in 2017.
However, US District Court Judge Denise Casper did narrow his suit considerably, dismissing several of his claims.
Walsh fired Arroyo over allegations of sexual harassment. Arroyo denied the allegations. He charged he was never given a chance to defend himself, even after details about the allegations leaked from a porous City Hall and that Walsh may have acted out of malice because of both Arroyo's past run for mayor and potential to run again.
Casper ruled that Arroyo, one of several 2013 mayoral candidates Walsh had brought into his administration, was an at-will employee, subject to being fired at any moment, but that in Massachusetts, even at-will employees have certain rights, in particular, a "covenant of good faith and fair dealing."
Arroyo, she wrote, made a good enough case to possibly warrant letting a jury decide whether he "was terminated contrary to a clearly established public policy," more specifically, that "his termination was against public policy as it sought to punish him for not resigning his position with the City and his refusal to admit to acts that he did not do. "
However, Casper dismissed Arroyo's charge that Walsh defamed him because his statements about how if he had a daughter, he wouldn't want her to work with Arroyo, were legally protected opinion and because Arroyo presented no proof that Walsh knew the comments were deliberately and maliciously false, a requirement to win a defamation case involving a public figure, which Arroyo at the time was.
She also dismissed Arroyo's breach of contract claim, ruling Arroyo in fact had no contract with the city to work as chief of health and human services. Arroyo argued that the employee manual he got when hired for the new position constituted a contract, but Casper wrote that even aside from the fact it explicitly stated it was not a contract, the manual provided only guidance for employees. Also, Arroyo did not negotiate with the city over the terms of the manual, she wrote.
Also dropped from his case: His charge that the way he was fired deprived him of his right to due process. To prove his case, Arroyo would have to prove "the deprivation of an established life, liberty, or property interest, and that such deprivation occurred through governmental action that shocks the conscience." Since he's alive and free, that leaves "property interest," but Casper said that at an at-will employee without a contract, he had no legal "property interest" in the job he'd lost.
Neither sources that Arroyo relies upon, the City Employment Manual, or alleged promise from Mayor Walsh, for the reasons stated above, give rise to a reasonable expectation that he would continue to be employed.