NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Dale Lehman, who also goes by the name Tony, is suing the City of Wausau for $1.8-million. He reached a settlement with the city in a wrongful termination case several years ago. He was laid off a second time last November when the city needed to make additional budget cuts. His lawsuit claims he was unfairly targeted, and that this latest layoff violates the earlier settlement. He’s suing to get his job back, plus back wages, benefits, and other damages.
First, let’s state the obvious. When someone sues Wausau, they are suing you and me. While the city does carry liability insurance, the city will still take a financial hit if they go to court and lose. Paying a large settlement or higher liability premiums will take already-scarce money away from somewhere else. My own feeling about these kind of lawsuits: the city should not be able to act improperly, but there should be a heavy burden of proof on the plaintiff before they can damage the public purse.
So, let’s stipulate two things. First, the city was facing a budget shortfall in November that required staff cuts. And second, Dale Lehman was probably not a popular employee with city leaders given past history.
Two things that tilt the ultimate outcome in the city’s favor. First is the very nature of the way city budgets are put together. Lehman wasn’t targeted by an individual at City Hall who was out for vengeance. His position was eliminated by a vote from the Common Council. If he is to win his lawsuit, are we setting a precedent that some City Council votes are off-limits? Should city leaders be blocked from using their best judgment in certain cases when tough budget decisions have to be made? Lawsuits that meddle in up-or-down votes of legislative bodies should be viewed with skepticism.
Secondly, just because someone has taken the city to court and reached a settlement doesn’t mean that their job is permanently exempt from the budget realities. Cuts were made in many other places. Police and fire unions gave concessions. Many city workers delayed or deferred pay raises, or took on more of their health insurance costs. Other workers were furloughed. And the job of City Engineer – Tony Lehman’s job – was eliminated. To say one of those cuts is out of bounds, but the others are not, is unfair.
In tough times budget cuts have to be made. A courtroom is not the right forum to challenge them. This lawsuit should be dismissed.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau