The District of Columbia and its Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi have been named the primary defendants in a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by a former District government administrator, who claims to have been wrongfully terminated for failing to cancel a contract awarded to a firm co-owned by a friend of Mayor Adrian Fenty.
The action was filed late last month in U. S. District Court by Eric Payne, who seeks protection under the District’s whistleblower law, which forbids retaliation against an employee that exposes wrongdoing within city agencies.
Due to a series of high turnovers resulting from negative audit results, Payne had been the sixth director of contracts in Gandhi’s office over a near three-year period. He assumed the post in 2006 and was demoted before losing his job in January 2009. Before his firing, he’d received exemplary job ratings, having at times, “exceeded expectations,” and had met regularly with Gandhi and other senior staff members to ensure that the office adhered to the highest standards of performance, the suit states.
But Payne was caught in the ongoing political tug-of-war between the City Council and the mayor, his lawyer Donald Temple said, in matters pertaining to the unprecedented security breach of D.C. Lottery in 2005 and efforts to replace the contract. That issue involved then-contractor Lottery Technology Enterprise (LTE) and its liability over the printing of fraudulent lottery tickets. Gaming retailers also had begun to complain that the weekly assessments hadn’t been up to par.
“Following these security breaches , Dr. Ghandi instructed to terminate the contact with LTE and specifically stated that he wanted to have this contract end ‘as quickly as possible,’” Payne said in his suit.
But Payne said instead of abruptly terminating LTE, he convinced Gandhi to speed up the procurement process for a new lottery contractor, since he could not legally pre-determine the award as the contract would have to be based on merits as outlined in the Request for Proposal.
Payne said he was targeted for dismissal by Gandhi after the CFO discovered that he’d contacted two city investigative agencies over his refusal to cancel the contract—even though he had ruled in favor of LTE’s competitor, W2I (W2Tech and Intralot), a decision that was challenged by the City Council. His suit also alleges that not only has Payne had his Fifth Amendment rights been violated, but that he’s suffered damage to his professional reputation and significant mental and emotional distress.
“Payne’s reward for insisting on transparency in the contracting process was an unsubstantiated OIO (Office of Integrity and Oversight) investigation, an unsubstantiated OIG (Office of Inspector General) investigation in which he was accused of criminal wrongdoing, a demotion, change of assignment, and ultimately his head on Ghandi’s proverbial platter—wrongful termination,” Temple said in a statement. He added, “Payne became a political doormat, disposed of after being trampled upon because of his character, integrity and insistence on public accountability.”
Karyn-Siobhan Robinson, spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, called the complaint “baseless” in an e-mailed statement to the AFRO. Robinson said the department could offer no additional comments on the legal matter.