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Judge dismisses former supervisor's lawsuit against city

Cincinnati City Hall at night
Posted at 5:12 AM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-02 09:17:29-05

CINCINNATI — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit last week from a former City of Cincinnati supervisor who was fired for reportedly trying to expose waste and fraud shortly after being hired.

Gary Colorez was employed as the Public Works Operations Supervisor in the summer of 2017, before he was terminated about ten weeks later.

Colorez argued in a lawsuit that the City and his bosses - former city manager Harry Black and former Public Services Director Maraeshia Smith - wrongfully fired him and violated Ohio whistleblower law, his due process and his First Amendment right to free speech.

Judge Douglas Cole on Thursday dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning the case is closed permanently. Judge Cole agreed with the defendants that "First Amendment protection is reserved for citizen-capacity speech."

Read the judge's dismissal here:

Colorez Dismissal by WCPO Web Team on Scribd

Colorez argued that he was fired after he raised concerns related to the City's recycling program, procurement system, greenspace mowing, street sweeping and abandoned lot abatement.

He claimed he found one city contractor, Contract Sweepers, wasn't sweeping streets nightly as it should. The problem was so serious Colorez refused to sign for the contractor's payment, his lawsuit said.

Colorez also claimed he found city employees could do a better job of street sweeping and save about $500,000 each year.

Colorez also alleged he found a problem with the city's recycling contract; that instead of making a profit on metal recyclables, the city paid its vendor to haul them away.

Problems also reached into the city's work cleaning up blighted properties, Colorez said. He claimed contractors billed the city far more than needed to do the work, so he temporarily halted all large cleanup projects. He said he believed the city could do the same jobs for about 25 percent of the contractors' cost.

Terry Nestor, deputy city solicitor, said at the time, Colorez' lawsuit "contains numerous allegations that are either false, contain half-truths or demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the City and the Public Services Department." In a statement to WCPO in 2017, he said Colorez was fired for failure to perform and inappropriate behavior.

Mayor John Cranley alleged at the time that Colorez "used inappropriate language on the job."

In 2017, WCPO uncovered emails from Tonya Ervin, a sanitation specialist under Colorez, which gave more information on the situation.

She filed a formal employee relations complaint in mid-August 2017. At that point, Colorez had been public works operations superintendent for about two months. Ervin said she believed Colorez didn't treat her fairly and used her husband's position in the department against her.

"Nothing here is professional," she wrote in an email.

She told the city's human resources department Colorez also retaliated against her for filing the complaint, that she was offered overtime pay if she agreed not to pursue it and that Colorez made several inappropriate remarks.

Colorez told WCPO he thought the city might try to discredit him, "to create some kind of black cloud over my name."

"I treated all the employees with respect," he said.