A federal judge dismissed a former midlevel manager at Baltimore's Public Works Department yesterday from a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by two employees who claim they suffered on-the-job retaliation after publicly criticizing a city contract.
Robert F. Guston was part of the department's chain of command, but evidence presented this week at the trial never directly tied him to allegations that engineers Jeanne Robinson and David Marc were punished for exercising their First Amendment rights, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin ruled.
Guston, a former general services supervisor, was not in court when Smalkin dismissed him from the case. Guston recently started a job as a laborer after leaving his city job. He was at work yesterday, said his attorney, H. Mark Stichel, who planned to page his client with the news.
'Not a proper defendant'
"I've thought all along that Mr. Guston was not a proper defendant in this case," Stichel said.
Attorneys for the two other defendants in the civil case, George G. Balog, former director of the department, and another deputy, Leonard H. Addison, also asked Smalkin for a directed verdict after Robinson and Marc finished presenting their evidence. The defendants argued that there was no proof of serious harm and that any career setbacks weren't the result of public criticism by Robinson and Marc.
Smalkin ruled that the case against Balog and Addison will go to the jury but acknowledged that the allegations rely heavily on circumstantial evidence.
"It's a case of making tomato soup out of catsup and water," Smalkin said. If the jury decides that the evidence weighs in favor of the two employees, "then catsup and water will taste good," he said.
Robinson and Marc criticized a city contract for repair work at the Quarantine Road Landfill at a 1995 Board of Estimates meeting, publicly opposing Balog. They also later cooperated with a federal investigation into whether contractors who made political donations were unfairly getting city work.
Plaintiffs list charges
As a result, the two say, they were relegated to menial jobs, lost extra pay and were intimidated by their bosses and shunned by colleagues.
Defense attorneys say Robinson and Marc are disgruntled employees trying to make a case out of small slights.
Public Works employees who testified yesterday for Balog and Addison portrayed the two as tough but fair bosses. They described Robinson as being frequently late to work and disrespectful of Addison, her immediate supervisor beginning in late 1995.
Defense attorneys also presented evidence that the Maryland Human Relations Commission dismissed Robinson's claim.