Village of Morrow pays $600K to ex-worker to settle claims of bullying, harassment, wrongful firing

Jury: 'Atrocious and utterly intolerable' treatment by Village
Former Village of Morrow employee Tim Erwin points out bullet holes in his house.
Posted at 5:08 PM, Jan 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-03 21:32:45-05

MORROW, Ohio — The Village of Morrow has agreed to pay a former maintenance worker $600,000 to settle a five-year legal battle over allegations of bullying, harassment, and wrongful termination.

A jury sided with former public works employee Timothy Erwin last May after a week-long trial in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. The jury ruled officials in the small Warren County community unlawfully fired Erwin and intentionally inflicted "atrocious" and "utterly intolerable" emotional distress on him.

That verdict exposed the Village to a $1.1 million payoutto Erwin for back pay, future wages, damages, and attorney’s fees.

Afterward, lawyers for the Village filed motions for a new trial, to overturn the verdict, and to reduce the payout. Erwin’s attorney, Jim Whitaker, told WCPO in July that he worried the Village didn’t have the money to pay the verdict award.

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The jury's verdict in the case of Tim Erwin vs. the Village of Morrow.

Both sides continued to fight over money this fall during hearings before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett. Finally, after a settlement conference, all parties agreed to a $600,000 payout, which was signed by Whitaker on Dec. 3.

WCPO obtained the settlement agreement after making a public records request to Village attorneys.

The agreement contains a confidentiality clause which prevents Erwin from discussing the settlement. The Village, which did not return a request for comment made to its lawyers, denied any responsibility or liability for Erwin’s claims in the settlement.

Before the case went to trial, the Village of Morrow’s own lawyers had advised council members to approve a $200,000 mediated settlement with Erwin that would have avoided trial, court filings show. And Erwin said in July that he was willing to take the lower settlement.

But Morrow Village Council voted against the settlement, court filings show.

Now the village, which has 2,000 residents, is on the hook for three times that amount.

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Former Village of Morrow employee Tim Erwin and his attorney Jim Whitaker.

“You have to treat a human being with dignity, respect, and you have to follow the law. If you don’t want to do that, you’re going to get a verdict against you,” Whitaker said in a July interview. “That's really what he was dealing with, a bunch of bullies.”

Erwin, who is a lifelong resident of Morrow, got a job with the Village public works department in 2003 mowing grass, plowing snow, fixing water leaks and picking up trash.

I had planned on retiring there," Erwin said in July. "I really enjoyed the job, the people."

But that changed in 2012, when Erwin said a political dispute between his brother, Michael Erwin, who was mayor at the time, and others in Morrow got ugly.

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Billboards seen by the jury that former Village of Morrow employee Tim Erwin say publicly humiliated him.

Erwin said former council member Bruce Miller, who was his former co-worker at the public works department, and former council member Bill Thompson began harassing him, in part, to get back at his brother. He said they used billboards and social media posts to make fun of him publicly.

“The large signs or billboards constructed by a member of the Village Council (Bill Thompson) making fun of plaintiff and suggesting he was ‘milking’ the village, which signs were left out at Thompson’s house visible to passers-by, and his truck parked in front of monthly village council meetings for all to see,” according to Whitaker’s court filing.

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Billboards seen by the jury that former Village of Morrow employee Tim Erwin say publicly humiliated him.

Meanwhile, Erwin said that Bruce Miller stalked and followed him, after blaming him for the loss of his job at public works and the termination of his brother, Bob Miller, from his job as zoning inspector after he was charged with stealing water from the village by operating an illegal water tap, according to court filings.

“He (Bruce Miller) would follow me everywhere I would go on the village mower … and yelled some obscenities at me. He would flip me off and different types of gestures,” Erwin said. “He would park out in front of my house at 6 a.m.”

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Village of Morrow's administration building

In February 2013, Erwin got a civil stalking protection order against Bruce Miller, which was violated at least once and led to Miller’s conviction of a reduced charge of disorderly conduct in 2014, according to court filings.

But testimony at trial showed that the Morrow police chief failed to enforce the civil protection order and the Morrow mayor refused to discipline the police chief for not doing so, according to Whitaker’s court filings.

In July 2014, Miller’s daughter filed a menacing complaint against Erwin, which led to his arrest. The charge was later dropped, according to court filings, but not before Erwin said he was publicly humiliated.

After years of the harassment, Erwin said, a doctor diagnosed him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in September 2014 and he took a leave of absence from work due to high anxiety, depression, nightmares, loss of appetite and sleeplessness.

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Village of Morrow in Warren County

“Tim was really emotionally devastated by this," Whitaker said. "It really kind of destroyed his life. He lost his job, he lost his retirement, he lost his benefits.”

Erwin took a leave of absence from work, using his accumulated sick leave, to recover from the PTSD.

As Erwin was preparing to return to work months later, he got a letter from then Village Administrator Rod Smith in March 2015 firing him, “at the direction of village council.” That same day he also received a second letter from Smith giving him his “highest recommendation,” and praising him as prompt, efficient, positive and courteous.

While Erwin was on administrative leave, Morrow officials hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of his employment. Her December 2014 report concluded that Erwin should remain a village employee and warned that council could open itself up to negative employment action if he were fired, according to court filings.

A few months before Erwin’s case went to trial last May, Erwin found several bullet holes that had struck his home in Morrow. He never saw who fired the gun, but said he has suspicions. He showed the damage to WCPO last July.