Former Panama Beach City Manager Paid More Than $130,000 In Whistleblower Settlement
According to a report from the Panama City News-Herald, Tony O’Rourke, the former city manager for Panama Beach, has agreed to settle a whistleblower lawsuit for in excess of $130,000 in financial relief. The lawsuit in question centered around Mr. O’Rourke’s termination in February of 2021, which reportedly occurred shortly after he filed a whistleblower complaint. In this article, our Florida IRS whistleblower lawyers offer a more detailed review of the allegations and the settlement.
Whistleblower Complaint: Alleged Misuse of Taxpayer Funds to Upgrade Athletic Field
Panama City Beach manager Tony O’Rourke was terminated at an official city council meeting in February of 2021, only one year after he was initially hired to take the position. Notably, he was terminated without warning. In taking the personnel action, the members of the Panama Beach, FL City Council emphasized that Mr. O’Rourke’s employment agreement clearly stated that he could be terminated at any time, with or without cause and with or without notice.
However, there was a complicating factor in this case. The Panama City News-Herald reports that Mr. O’Rourke filed a whistleblower complaint a mere one day prior to his termination. Within that whistleblower complaint, the former city manager raised his concerns that the council was misusing taxpayer money in relation to the upgrades to Elgin “Popeye” Fields Memorial Park. The whistleblower complaint states that the proposed upgrades in question were actually to private property.
Settlement Reach: $131,250 Plus Additional Legal Costs to Resolve Retaliation Claim
As noted previously, former Panama Beach City Manager Tony O’Rourke was unquestionably serving under an at-will employment contract that allowed the city council to discharge him without cause.
However, even when this type of employment agreement is in place, an employer in Florida cannot remove an employee for an illegal reason, including in retaliation for filing a whistleblower claim. The Florida Whistleblower Act provides strong legal protections against retaliation to many public sector workers.
In reaching the settlement, the city’s insurance carrier will pay $131,250 in compensatory damages to the claimant. Beyond that, the city’s insurance carrier will also cover the cost of mediation and other certain legal expenses.
Temporal Proximity is Often a Key Piece of Evidence in a Retaliation Claim
To bring a successful whistleblower retaliation claim, an individual must prove that they were removed from their position because they engaged in protected activity. Proving causation can often be challenging. Temporal proximity—the closeness in time of two events—is often an important form of evidence in these cases. A termination shortly after the filing of a whistleblower complaint suggests a connection.
Schedule a Free, Confidential Consultation With a Whistleblower Lawyer in Florida
At Guttman, Freidin & Celler, our South Florida whistleblower rights attorneys are devoted to providing personalized, results-oriented legal advocacy to our clients. If you have questions about your legal rights, we are available as a resource. Contact us now to set up a no cost, no obligation case review. With an office in Miami, our firm handles whistleblower claims throughout Florida.