Warren whistle-blower case could settle out of court

Court documents say parties in Hartley vs. Fouts talking to facilitators

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 23, 2013

WARREN — A whistle-blower case filed by a former Warren employee against the city and Mayor Jim Fouts could be headed for an out-of-court settlement.

An order granting more time for Fouts and his attorneys to respond to allegations of “constructive termination” leveled by former Warren CitiStat Coordinator James Hartley indicated “the parties are engaging in settlement discussions,” and that they have “contacted facilitators in an effort to further settlement.”

The order indicated the dates provided by facilitators would fall outside of the time of the mayor’s scheduled response, which had been extended until Sept. 16.

The lawsuit alleged violations of Hartley’s constitutional rights and claimed that he was stripped of his duties at City Hall and made to count parts by hand in a city garage as retaliation after he recorded two violent, profanity-filled tirades during a private phone conversation with Fouts earlier this year and turned the clips over to Michigan State Police investigators.

Hartley’s attorney, Sarah Prescott of the Deborah Gordon law firm, confirmed Oct. 18 that facilitators had been contacted in an effort to determine if an out-of-court settlement can be reached before the case moves forward. Prescott said no one facilitator — typically former judges, lawyers or informal private mediators — had been selected and that the process was ongoing. She wouldn’t say which side initiated talks of a possible settlement but said it’s common for a plaintiff and his or her legal team to listen when the possibility exists to settle a case out of court.

“We’re still working on trying to figure out a date, a person, how to get that done, in order to talk settlement,” Prescott said. “I can tell you, of course, when you are on the plaintiff’s side of things, you are always willing to listen.

“I couldn’t tell you who picked up the phone first. We typically are willing to have that conversation at anytime,” Prescott said.

Fouts’ attorney, Sheryl Laughren of the Berry Moorman law firm, did not return a phone call seeking comment at press time.

But Fouts said Oct. 16 that he was unaware of any negotiations to settle the case.

The mayor has declined to discuss specifics of Hartley’s claims, citing the ongoing lawsuit, but again said Hartley had been kept employed and was never terminated. 

“I don’t know what recent favor I did to deserve this,” Fouts said.

Hartley left City Hall in June and submitted a letter to Fouts that he said “recognized the separation of employment you (Fouts) have brought about.” Hartley also asked for his personnel file and announced his intention to file a lawsuit while requesting that Fouts “invoke legal counsel to immediately preserve evidence relating to his employment.”

A deadline for lawyers representing the mayor and the city to respond was previously extended until Sept. 16. The deadline has now been extended until Nov. 18, according to court records.

If a settlement cannot be reached through a facilitator, Prescott said the case would likely move forward with depositions.

“If we go down that road of litigation, it is going to get much more public for Mayor Fouts. Everything is going to see the light of day if we go ahead and litigate this thing,” Prescott said.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Robert H. Cleland in Detroit.