Dismissed landfill employee sues county, says he was a scapegoat

September 23, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

A former county employee who claims he was made a scapegoat for problems at the Millersville Landfill has filed a multimillion-dollar suit against the county and two of his superiors.

William J. Taylor, who was assistant chief of the Bureau of Solid Waste until he was fired Aug. 7, filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. In the 47-page suit, Mr. Taylor claims that his First and 14th Amendment rights were violated and that he was deprived of a proper hearing before his dismissal.

The suit asks that Mr. Taylor be reinstated to his position. It also asks for $7.5 million each in compensatory and punitive damages against Thomas H. Neel, director of the county Department of Utilities, and deputy director John Zohlen. Mr. Taylor is seeking a $1.5 million judgment against the county.

"We have a situation in which some bureaucrats have elected to portray my client as a fall guy," said Annapolis attorney Richard F. Mayer, who is representing Mr. Taylor. "They have in the process violated this man's rights grievously. And they thought he would go away and he's not going to do that."

Mr. Mayer has advised Mr. Taylor not to talk publicly about the suit before it goes to trial. County officials declined comment.

Mr. Taylor says he was wrongly blamed by his superiors for $1.5 million in cost overruns involving erosion-control work at the landfill.

The work was mandated on April 15 by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which gave the landfill five months to comply with environmental regulations or be shut down.

Although $957,000 was allocated for the work, the Baltimore-based contractor, Potts & Callahan Inc., eventually billed the county about $2.5 million. Mr. Neel discovered the cost overrun in late July and ordered the work stopped on July 31.

County officials have acknowledged that Raymond Riggin, the county's chief sediment control inspector, supervised the project. In the suit, Mr. Taylor denies any responsibility for overseeing Mr. Riggin's work.

"At no time was [Mr. Taylor] assigned responsibility to manage the activities of Raymond Riggin," the suit says.

Mr. Taylor was suspended on July 31. His dismissal notice said he was being fired "because of your failure to follow established county procurement procedures resulting in over-commitment of funds in excess of $3 million."

Mr. Taylor met with Mr. Zohlen, his immediate supervisor, at a pre-termination hearing on Aug. 5, which the suit claims violates county policy that requires department heads to conduct such meetings.

At the hearing, Mr. Zohlen told Mr. Taylor he was not being fired for the reasons given in the notice, "but for some other vague and non-specific reasons which the defendant, John Zohlen, refused to divulge to [Mr. Taylor]," the suit says.

Because of this discrepancy, Mr. Taylor was not able to fully respond to the charges against him, the suit says.

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