WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – A federal lawsuit against former Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda alleging that he created a hostile work environment has been dismissed.
The ruling in the $2.7 million lawsuit was made Monday.
Paulette Godfrey claimed that she was pushed out of her job as a clerk and that she left her employment under duress because of Fuda.
Godfrey said that Fuda created a hostile workplace atmosphere and she complained to people about his behavior. The lawsuit also states that Godfrey was asked during a Trumbull County Commissioners’ meeting whether Fuda had ever been hostile or abusive to her in the workplace and Godfrey said he had.
Godfrey’s lawsuit claims that her comments about Fuda’s behaviors were protected speech and that her civil liberties were violated when what she calls “retaliatory behavior” ensued by Fuda after that public meeting. She says he began to harass, torment, bully and act abusively toward her, the lawsuit stated.
Monday’s ruling confirmed that Godfrey’s statements “casting a negative light” on Fuda were personal and not public and that “mere allegations of managerial incompetence do not amount to constitutionally protected speech,” as ruled by the Sixth District Court of Appeals.
Further, even if her remarks were made in a manner of “public concern” as she alleged, she was not speaking as a private citizen, which makes a difference because “when a public employee speaks not as a citizen upon matters of public concern, but instead as an employee upon matters only of personal interest, absent the most unusual circumstances, a federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the wisdom of a personnel decision taken by
a public agency allegedly in reaction to the employee’s behavior,” the judges wrote.
The lawsuit was filed in February 2022. Godfrey quit her job on July 24, 2021. She was hired by the county in 1995 and became a commissioner’s clerk in 2005.
Fuda said he had worked with Godfrey for 15 years and never had a problem.
Fuda announced his retirement in 2022 and served out his term. Denny Malloy was elected to the seat in November.