A case against the city of Hyde Park stemming from a firearm incident in 2018 will not move forward in federal court.
After a hearing on Thursday, Judge Bruce Jenkins dismissed the case due to a lack of jurisdiction in the United States District Court, but allowed room for the former employees to refile certain claims in a state court.
In January 2019, two former Hyde Park employees — Justin Bodrero and Kolby Christiansen — filed grievances with the city, stating Director of Public Works Mike Grunig pointed a handgun with a laser sight at the men. Documents filed with the court state Grunig claimed “he was joking around while showing his friends his gun’s laser sight,” while the plaintiffs held a different view on the incident.
“Each of the subordinates were shocked; nobody laughed,” the lawsuit states.
Initially, Grunig was demoted, suspended and given a cut in pay by Mayor Sharidean Flint. City Council members, however, voted to reinstate Grunig shortly after the sanctions and the employees were to resume work under Grunig’s authority. The incident was viewed by the council as an “error of judgement” and “offensive.” The employees ultimately submitted resignation letters.
During the hearing, attorney for the plaintiffs Sam Goble argued the employees were “not at-will in their job.” The former employees were entitled to effectively executed due-process and were constructively terminated from their jobs due to a hostile work environment. Goble said the employees were not given an opportunity from the city to appeal the grievance procedures.
“The mayor, her hands were tied; she couldn’t do anything for us to protect us from that hostile work environment,” Goble said. “The linchpin of this is whether or not the court accepts that having a gun pointed at them, under the circumstances briefed, created a hostile work environment.”
Attorney for Hyde Park David Church argued that the former employees’ grievance was processed in accordance with state law and they were not punished for being “whistleblowers.”
“They were not happy with the outcome of that grievance and resigned,” Church said. “They resigned that job; we did not take it from them.”
Church said the grievance appeal process was for employees, a right the plaintiffs gave up when they resigned their positions, and they were not deprived of any procedure.
“This case is not about their fears of a hostile work environment,” Church said. “This case is about should Mr. Grunig be their supervisor or should they have another supervisor — that’s not a federal claim.”
After hearing arguments, Jenkins agreed with counsel for the city and dismissed the case. However, Jenkins elected not to deal with the state claims so that they could be refiled in a state court.
“In one sense, they’re really not here,” Jenkins said. “That’s for another day in another forum.”
Goble did not respond to request for further comment.