Haddon Libby, former VP at Irvine, California-based First Foundation Bank, claims his former employer fired him on September 8, 2011, in retaliation for asking the Indian Wells City Council to disclose the city’s individual salary and benefits spending for public employees, including then City Manager Greg Johnson, according to a lawsuit filed October 20 in California Superior Court in Riverdale.
Libby claims he made his initial request for the city’s payroll spending at an August 4 City Council meeting. Two days later, Libby’s supervisor, First Foundation CEO Scott Kavanaugh, received an e-mail from Johnson complaining about a post on Libby’s Facebook page concerning the city manager’s pension, the lawsuit said, according to Business Insurance.
“Mr. Libby must understand that such public discourse comes at a price,” Johnson allegedly wrote. “As a representative of First Foundation Bank, Mr. Libby will be held accountable for his comments now and into the future.”
Libby claims that his supervisor told him to “tread carefully,” and that the bank would not protect him because it was in the process of negotiating an important acquisition, that he would have to be fired if he elected to run for city council, sued Johnson, or even met with him. During the next several weeks, Libby claims he continued to pursue his request for payroll documents from the city, but was told by Johnson via e-mails—copies of which he sent to Libby’s supervisors—that his request would need to go through additional levels of approval. Libby said he complained to several city council members about Johnson’s behavior, drawing another email from Johnson himself.
“It is difficult to trust a community banker like yourself,” Johnson allegedly wrote. “The proof is in your request and actions. Please don’t cry wolf when you choose to get involved in politics.”
The news report said a day after the exchange, Libby was fired with almost no reason given, the suit alleges.
“In reaction to the negative publicity surrounding the retaliation, Kavanaugh issued a belated, October 7, 2011, letter claiming that the real reason for his termination had been failure to meet certain unspecified ‘goals,’” the suit claims. “The real reason for the termination was to curry favor with the powerful local officials who had requested that (Mr. Libby) be punished for his legitimate inquiries into their excessive taxpayer-funded compensation.”Libby has accused the bank, its parent company First Foundation Inc., and Kavanaugh of wrongful termination and defamation, and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.