Sie sind auf Seite 1von 109

Exhibit #1

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA IN THE GENERAL COURT OF JUSTICE


SUPERIOR COURT i;:>NJSION
COUNTY OF MECKLENBURG 19-CVS-4139
!i'j !(
J •• !/,
i I,(, I.I(.)
'
MARTY PUCKETT, ' 'u

1'
Plaintiff, I,
I I ,l_),

v.
COMPLAINT
CITY OF CHARLOTTE, and JON HANNAN
and CHERYL BROWN, in their official and
individual capacities,

Defendants.

COMES NOW Plaintiff Marty Puckett, complaining of Defendants City of Charlotte, Jon

Hannan, and Cheryl Brown and alleges as follows:

INTRODUCTIONAND NATUREOF ACTION

I. Puckett, an employee of Defendant, brings this action against Defendant for

retaliation for violations of the First Amendment to the United States and North Carolina

Constitutions.

PARTIES

2. Plaintiff Marty Puckett ("Plaintiff' or "Puckett") is an adult citizen and resident of

Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

3. Upon information and belief, Defendant City of Charlotte (the "City" or

"Defendant") is organized by City Charter under§ 160A of the North Carolina General Statutes,

and has its principal office and place of business in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North

Carolina, where it maintains and administers a fire department known as the Charlotte Fire

Department (the "CFO" or "Fire Department") which employs Puckett.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 1 of 109


4. To the extent it is applicable, Defendant has adopted a plan of insurance pursuant

to N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 160-A-485and has waived its immunity from civil liability.

5. Upon information and belief, Defendant Jon Hannan ("Chief Hannan" is an adult

citizen and resident of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

6. Upon information and belief, Defendant Cheryl Brown ("HR Director Cheryl

Brown" is an adult citizen and resident of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

7. The unlawful practices alleged in this Complaint were committed in Mecklenburg

County, North Carolina.

8. Jurisdiction and venue are proper in this court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stal. §§ 1-

75.4 and 1-79 and 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(2).

BACKGROUND
9. Puckett is a lifelong Charlottean. Puckett became employed by the CFD as a

firefighter on or about November 30, 1992and is a Firefighter Il.

I0. As a Firefighter II, Puckett responds to fire incidents and other emergency

situations called into 911, the City's emergency number. He also has specialized training for

more technical and difficult rescues, including dive rescues, swift water rescues, trench rescues,

confined space rescues, and urban search and rescue. His performance has been

meets/exceeds/exceptionalthroughout his career.

11. Throughout his tenure with the Fire Department, Puckett has dedicated himself to

the City and its citizens and employees, and he has strived to make the CFO a better place to

work and more effective at serving the diverse Charlotte community. He is committed to

working with anyone who can help create necessary change.

2
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 2 of 109
12. Puckett is a member of the Charlotte Firefighters Association ("CFFA") and has

served in various roles, including Vice President, Treasurer, Political Action Director, and Chair

of the Grievance Committee. Puckett was also a Board member to the Charlotte Firefighters

Charities, which is a nonprofit foundation that provides educational programs in schools, public

safety seminars, emergency funding for firefighter families in need, emergency funding for

families dislocated due to fire or other events, and financial support for maintenance and upkeep

of the historical Palmer Building.

13. Puckett was also appointed by two different mayors to serve consecutive terms on

the City's Board and Commission on Community Relations and the Firefighters Relief Fund.

14. Puckett attended statewide and national meetings and worked at the state and

federal levels on legislation and with the Professional Firefighters and Paramedics of North

Carolina ("PFFPNC"). Puckett also served on the executive board of PFFPNC for a term.

15. Puckett was the Vice President of the Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council

and was the President of the North Carolina Hear Our Public Employees Coalition ("HOPE")

HOPE is an initiative by the North Carolina State American Federation of Labor and Congress of

Industrial Organizations ("NC State AFL-CIO''), a North Carolina association of unions.

16. Puckett has been involved with the local chapter of the National Association for

the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") for several years and served as its Vice

President for two tenns. He helped establish local and state candidate forums through his

position with the NAACP. Puckett currently sits on the NAACP Executive Council as Labor

Chair.

17. Puckett has advocated for firefighter rights and equal opportunity for

advancement. He has been outspoken about increasing opportunities for minorities within the

3
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 3 of 109
CFD and supportive of fair and non-discriminatory employment practices. He has been

especially vocal about opposing CFD leadership's abuses of power, culture of fear and

retaliation, and its silencing of anyone who can expose corruption. Puckett strongly believes that

the government needs to work in the best interest of the community it serves.

18. Puckett was retaliated against by the City as a result of his outspokenness and

political activities, including:

a. His activities to support firefighter rights on behalf of the CFFA;

b. His support of Crystal Eschert in her action against the City, serving as an

advocate for her and witness at her termination hearing, and later as a witness at

the Civil Service Board hearing and federal court trial;

c. His complaints to City Council and others, including members of the media,

including complaints regarding his concerns about the misuse of grant monies,

manipulation of vacation/holiday pay, manipulation of the retirement system,

revenue diversion, misuse the appropriated funds for staffing, unfunded liabilities

in the Charlotte Firefighters Retirement System, refusal of the CFD to have a

validated promotional process and follow City Council Resolution and procedures

in place to ensure a fair promotional process for firefighters, especially minorities,

failure of the CFD to pay for all eligible employees to be on the North Carolina

State Firemen's Association Relief Fund Roster, Grant Assurances, CFD attaining

international accreditation and ISO class rating of 1 under false pretenses, and the

Police Chief and Fire Chief pushing to put puppets on the Civil Service Board to

support them;

4
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 4 of 109
d. His support of minorities who the City unfairly denied promotions by

manipulating the promotional process;

e. His political activities such as work to vet and endorse candidates for local, state,

and federal offices; and,

f. his assistance to City Council Member Claire Fallon ("Council Member Fallon").

19. The City retaliated against Puckett when it limited Puckett's political speech by

denying him access, treating him differently than his non-union coworkers and coworkers who

did not support Crystal Eschert and oppose the CFD's abuse of power and retaliatory culture

when it:

a. Released protected personnel information to the media;

b. Banned his access to the 15th floor of the government center, thereby limiting his

access to a public forum;

c. Denied Puckett access to public records and documents that are a part of his

personnel file pursuant to state statute;

d. Required him to use personal vacation time to testify at the trial of Eschert v. City

of Charlotte although it paid other City employees for their time testifying;

e. Changed requirements for instructors so that Puckett could no longer serve as an

instructor;

f. Banned Puckett from serving as a volunteer for Council Member Fallon;

g. Fire Chief Jon Hannan ("Chief Hannan") and others in leadership refused to meet

with the CFFA while Puckett was an officer; and,

5
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 5 of 109
h. Otherwise harassed, intimidated, and threatened Puckett with disciplinary action,

tennination, and even physical harm, and sanctioned and encouraged Puckett's

coworkers and command staff to do the same.

Crystal Eschert

20. The facts surrounding Crystal Eschert's tennination and lawsuit against the City

are essential to and necessarily intertwined with Puckett's claims against the City, as the City

retaliated against Puckett for supporting Eschert.

21. Upon information and belief, in late August 2014, the CFD management

orchestrated circumstances to terminate Crystal Eschert, a fire investigator, who had been

complaining to Council Member Fallon and others about misuse of CFD funds and health and

safety issues related to the new offices for fire investigators located at the 1517 North Graham

Street building ("Arson Task Force Building"}.

22. Crystal Eschert contacted her father-in-law, Ray Eschert, a well-connected

business man, for advice. Ray Eschert then contacted Council Member Fallon to see if she knew

what was going on. Ray Eschert shared that he was concerned the City was retaliating against

Crystal Eschert for her previous complaints to Council Member Fallon about the Arson Task

Force Building.

23. Council Member Fallon contacted Puckett to see if he knew what was going on.

24. Crystal Eschert had separately reached out to Puckett to serve has her employee

advocate and witness throughout the termination process.

25. On or about September 16, 2014, CFD management received a public records

request from Puckett on behalf of the CFFA for a number of emails and text messages by,

between, or among CFD employees and others as they related to Crystal Eschert.

6
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 6 of 109
26. Upon information and belief, also on September 16, 2014, a meeting was held

with senior CFO and City management, including Chief Hannan, Deputy Chief Howard "Pete"

Key ("Deputy Chief Key"), CFD HR Director Kristi Kjeldsen, Deputy Chief Kerr Putney,

Deputy City Attorney Hope Root, Human Resources Director Cheryl Brown, Deputy Human

Resources Director Sheila Simpson, and Assistant City Manager Ann Wall, to discuss, among

other things, the public information request signed by Puckett.

27. Upon information and belief, on September 18, 2014, Fire Department

management received a public records request from Steve Harrison on behalf of the Charlotte

Obsen•er. Upon information and belief, the City believes that Puckett asked Steve Harrison to

send the request in order to force the City to respond.

28. Crystal Eschert was later terminated after a hearing on September 25, 2014.

Puckett attending the hearing and served as a witness on behalf of Crystal Eschert.

29. The CFFA assisted Eschert with the grievance Eschert filed regarding her

termination, which was also denied.

30. Eschert went on to a file a Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act

("REDA") retaliation complaint with the North Carolina Department of Labor and filed a lawsuit

against the City.

31. The CFFA and Puckett continued to support Crystal Eschert after her termination.

Puckett spoke with Deputy Chief Key and then-City HR Director Sheila Simpson about the

termination and how it affected the department, Crystal Eschert's next steps, and the City's

position on her termination.

32. The CFFA and Puckett also supported Crystal Eschert by sending public records

requests for documents.

7
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 7 of 109
33. Puckett testified on Crystal Eschert's behalf during a Civil Service Board Hearing

held on March 4, 2015.

34. Puckett testified that he gave advice to Crystal Eschert regarding her termination

and told her to follow the grievance process as laid out by the CFD. Puckett also testified that

he, and other members of the CFFA, did research on the Civil Service Act and interviewed older

generations of firefighters to learn what they knew about how the Civil Service Act evolved over

time and how it applied to fire investigators.

35. When asked by opposing counsel, "You were working hard on Ms. Eschert's

behalf?" Puckett replied, "I would say we were working hard on Ms. Eschert's behalf."

36. Puckett gave his testimony in front of the Charlotte Civil Service Board as well as

City and CFD HR, and CFD management, including Chief Hannan and Deputy Chief Richard

Granger ("Deputy Chief Granger").

37. Chief Hannan previously told Puckett by phone in or about 2014, "We're going to

put Ashley Hewitt and Norman Garnes on the Civil Service Board." Upon information and

belief, both of those individuals were supportive of Chief Hannan. Ashley Hewitt and Norman

Garnes were on the Civil Service Board and heard Crystal Eschert's appeal to the Civil Service

Board.

38. On or about August 31, 2015, Puckett sent an extensive request for public

documents, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat § 132.l, related to the Civil Service Board, the City

Manager's Office, the CFO, CFO suspensions and te1minations, City Council personnel rules

and regulations, and the work of the City's outside counsel, among other requests.

8
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 8 of 109
39. By supporting Crystal Eschert, Puckett butted heads with Chief Hannan and his

supporters, including Deputy Chief Granger and members of City Council, who saw Puckett as a

threat to Chief Hannan's power and control.

Puckett and CouncilMember Claire Fallon

40. Puckett first met Councilwoman Claire Fallon ("Fallon") in or about 2011 in his

role as Political Action Director for the CFFA. In that capacity, he vetted her candidacy for City

Council to decide whether the CFFA would endorse her.

41. Fallon had a family history of involvement in and support of fire departments and

was thus interested in supporting the CFD and advocating for firefighter rights.

42. Fallon was first elected to City Council in 2011 and served as a council member

until her term ended after she lost her bid for reelection in September 2017.

43. Fallon served as the Chair of the Community Safety Committee from 2013 to

2014. In that capacity she interacted with citizens related to the Fire Department and the Police

Department.

44. In January 2014, the administrative assistant to City Council reached out to CFFA

leadership, including Puckett, to set up a meeting between them and Council Member Fallon at

Council Member Fallon's request. As Chair of the Community Safety Committee, she wanted to

reach out to the City's ci vii servants to learn more about what they did and how she could better

help them serve the community.

45. Puckett found an ally in the fight for firefighter rights, including the rights of

Crystal Eschert, in Council Member Fallon. Council Member Fallon realized that Crystal

Eschert's termination was retaliatory and took issue with the direction of Chief Hannan's

leadership.

9
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 9 of 109
46. After the November 3, 2015 election, Council Member Fallon's intern abruptly

quit, Puckett asked her if she needed help and she said yes. She counted on him to accurately

and honestly answer her questions about what he knew and could find out about City business.

She was curious to learn more about how the City departments worked so that she could better

do her job as a City Council Member and she leaned on Puckett to learn about the CFD.

47. Puckett and Council Member Fallon spoke about:

a. Falsification of CFD vacation/holidaypay used to inflate pensions;

b. Reduction of CFD sick and vacation hours, which lowered pensions and

retirement payouts;

c. Chief Hannan's inflation of minimum staffing needs to put fire companies in

service in order to garner additional funded positions from City Council, then

trading the allocated funds and position numbers through the Budget Office for

staff positions, which results in fewer paid positions and more required overtime;

d. Unfunded liabilities in the Charlotte Firefighter Retirement System through

various forms of pension spiking and manipulation;

e. Failure of the CFO to nm a validated promotional process and the City and CFD

refusal to follow all City Council approved Ordinances and Resolutions, including

the City and CFD's intentional disregard for City Council Resolution and Civil

Service guidelines enacted to ensure all firefighters, particularly minorities,

participate in an equitable promotional process based on merit, and the City's

failure to run a validated promotional process, all of which has resulted in a

decrease in minority promotions;

10
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 10 of 109
f. City staff separating costs into multiple transactions in order to avoid required

City Council approval over a certain threshold;

g. Revenue diversion at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport ("Airport")-the

City improperly used funds and resources aJlocated for the Airport for other City

purposes;

h. City staff instituting personnel rules without the approval of City Council;

i. CFD failing to include all eligible employees, including retirees and civilian

employees, to be on the North Carolina State Firemen's Association's Relief Fund

Roster "(Roster"), and then applying for relief for individuals who were not on the

Roster, thereby avoiding the Roster fees and improperly collecting and disbursing

funds;

j. City Council and City Staff have told prospective Civil Service Board members

that they want to put people on the Civil Service Board who will support the

decisions of the Police and Fire Chiefs;

k. In or about January 2016, Puckett told Council Member Fallon that if City

Council had to sign Grant Assurances for the CFD, they needed to be sure that the

CFO met the conditions of the funding and spent the money appropriately as

allowed by the grant. Council Member Fallon raised this issue during a City

Council dinner meeting. Upon information and belief, $50,000 of restricted grant

monieswere used by the CFO at the direction of Deputy Chief Granger to pay for

boat motors although that purchase was not permitted by the grant. Upon

information and belief, Deputy Chief Kevin Gordon took over the Administrative

Deputy Chief position after this was brought to light; and,

ll
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 11 of 109
l. CFO attaining international accreditation and ISO class rating of 1 under false

pretenses.

48. Puckett began assisting Council Member Fallon with City Council activities,

helping her with research on the computer, attending meetings with her, and carrying boxes for

her since she was a little unsteady on her feet, could not lift and carry heavy boxes, and needed

help with the computer. Council Member Fallon was approximately 80 years old at this time.

49. Puckett volunteered his time to assist Council Member Fallon without pay when

he was off duty; he was never accused of completing activities as an intern or volunteer while

also being on duty or in uniform.

50. Puckett engaged in political activities to support good government in a manner

that was appropriate for any citizen or public employee. Council Member Fallon did not direct

Puckett's conduct or activities within his capacity as a firefighter.

51. Puckett's role as a volunteer is wholly consistent with the types of activities

contemplated by N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 160A-l69(a), which states:

The purpose of this section is to ensure that city employees are not
subjected to political or partisan coercion while performing their job duties,
to ensure that employees are not restricted from political activities while off
duty, and to ensure that public funds are not used for political or partisan
activities. It is not the purpose of this section to allow infringement upon
the rights of employees to engage in free speech and free association.
Every city employee has a civic responsibility to support good government
by every available means and in every appropriate manner. Employees
shall not be restricted from affiliating with civic organizations of a partisan
or political nature, nor shall employees, while off duty, be restricted from
attending political meetings, or advocating and supporting the principles or
policies of civic or political organizations, or supporting partisan or
nonpartisan candidates of their choice in accordance with the Constitution
and laws of the State and the Constitution and laws of the United States of
America.

(Emphasis added)

12
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 12 of 109
Retaliation Against Puckett

Instructor Position

52. Puckett worked as an instructor at the CFD Fire Training Academy for years and

received approximately $2,600 for each course he taught or assisted in teaching as a result.

53. Upon information and belief, or about late 2014 or early 2015, Chief Hannan and

those acting in concert with him, removed Puckett as an adjunct instructor for a course on urban

search and rescue at the Fire Training Academy by requiring all teachers to have a teaching

certificate, resulting in a loss of income to Puckett. Upon information and belief, Puckett is the

only mixed-heritage or black instructor who has taught this course.

54. The City had previously asked Puckett to assist in teaching this course, but then

changed its policies in order to retaliate against Puckett.

Access to Government/Limitationon Political Activities

55. Before agreeing to volunteer for Council Member Fallon, Puckett asked the legal

counsel of the PFFPNC whether there were any legal prohibitions on him doing so. Legal

counsel said there were no prohibitions.

56. Prior to volunteering for Council Member Fallon, on or about November 24,

2015, Puckett told former City Manager Carlee that he was going to assist her.

57. City Manager Carlee told Puckett it was not a good idea for him volunteer or

intern for Council Member Fallon. Puckett pushed back and asked if it was a violation of policy

or law or if he just didn't like it. City Manager Carlee did not identify any violations of law or

policy. Puckett asked for City Manager Carlee's directive to be put in writing as a safeguard to

both of them and City Manager Carlee agreed to do so. Puckett also told City Manager Carlee

that he would continue to exercise his right to engage in political activity until he received

13
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 13 of 109
something in writing from City Manager Carlee or until Council Member Fallon said he could no

longer serve her in that capacity.

58. City Manager Carlee was aware that Puckett continued to assist Council Member

Fallon because City Manager Carlee saw Puckett and Council Member Fallon together at

meetings. Indeed, Puckett and City Manager Carlee spoke wHh each other about City business at

some of these meetings. Puckett sometimes attended meetings for Council Member Fallon at her

request when she was unable to attend.

59. In order to separate Council Member Fallon and Puckett, City Manager Carlee

sought a legal opinion from then-City Attorney Robert Hagemann ("City Attorney Hagemann"),

which erroneously argued that it was a conflict of interest for an employee of the City, such as

Puckett, to work for Council Member Fallon, outside of his CFO duties, even as an unpaid

intern.

60. City Attorney Hagemann's opinion on the matter is dated December 8, 2015 (the

"Opinion") and states that Puckett's work for Council Member Fallon was "unlawful,'' and

sought to limit Puckett's ability to engage in political activity based on Section 4.03 of the City

Charter. The Opinion was not provided to Puckett at this time.

61. Upon information and belief, the Opinion was not provided to Puckett when

issued because the reasoning was flawed and its conclusion inaccurate.

62. The reasoning in the Opinion is flawed because: ( I) the City ordinance, cited in

the Opinion, does not support the conclusion that Puckett's work for a council member was a

violation; and (2) the "doctrine of incompatibility," cited in the Opinion, does not apply here.

14
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 14 of 109
63. Further, to the extent Section 4.03 of the Charlotte Charter, which City Attorney

Hagemann relied on in his Opinion, conflicts with N.C. Gen. Stat. § I60A-169(a), the statute

supersedes the Charter. N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 160A-169(f)states:

To the extent that this section conflicts with the provisions of any local
act, city charter, local ordinance, resolution, or policy, this section prevails
to the extent of the conflict.

64. The doctrine of incompatibility was used to prevent an individual from holding

two positions when both positions qualify as public offices. The common law doctrine is

superseded by Article VI, Section 9 of the N.C. Constitution and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 128-1.l. In

addition, public officers are routinely distinguished from public employees as public officers

exercise some level of sovereign authority. Work as a volunteer for a member of city council

does not include the exercise of sovereign authority, nor does work as a firefighter.

65. Since Puckett had not received anything in writing from the City or City Manager

Carlee prohibiting him from assisting Council Member FaIJon, Puckett continued to do so. On

March 3, 20 I6, Council Member Fallon asked Puckett to help her email a letter she had written

to civic leaders, including members of City Council, the Mayor, the City Attorney, and City

Manager, as well as two Charlotte Observer reporters. The letter complained about the City's

handling of the Eschert matter and called for the termination of Chief Hannan.

66. Upon information and belief, Council Member Fallon was concerned about

retaliation and did not want the City Council administrative assistant who typed the letter to also

distribute it by email.

67. Upon information and belief, the content of the letter had been determined

exclusively by Council Member Fallon and was dictated to an administrative assistant to City

Council.

15
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 15 of 109
Leaked Memo

68. The following day, March 4, 2016, City Manager Carlee issued a Confidential

Personnel Action Memo (the "Memo") to Puckett which excoriated him for helping Council

Member Fallon email the letter. City Manager Carlee directed Puckett to cease serving as an

aide to council members, accompanying them to meetings, communicating on their behalf, and

working in their offices.

69. This was the first written directive from City Manager Carlee to Puckett, but it did

not include any legal basis for the directive.

70. The Memo was copied to Chief Hannan and instructed Chief Hannan to ensure

that Puckett followed this directive, and it stated that Puckett's failure to follow this directive

may result in "disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal."

71. After Chief Hannan received a copy of the Memo on March 4, 2016, he

deliberately, illegally, and retaliatorily released it to the media although he knew it contained

Puckett's protected personnel information.

72. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan was well-aware that the personnel

records of City employees are protected pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat § l 60A-I 68 and that the

release of such information is a direct violation of the statute. The Memo is also conspicuously

marked "Confidential."

73. In addition to North Carolina laws regarding the release of employee personnel

files, CFD General Order 207.01 ("GO 207.01") also clearly prohibits the release of personnel

information, such as the Memo, unless there is a Court Order, employee authorization, or other

special circumstances contemplated by GO 207.01. CFD GO 207.01 was authorized by Chief

Hannan who expected all employees of the CFO to follow the policy.

16
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 16 of 109
74. Chief Hannan leaked the Memo after Puckett forwarded Council Member

Fallon's March 3, 2016 letter which called for Chief Hannan's termination, which is obvious

retaliation for Puckett's association with Council Member Fallon who was speaking out against

Chief Hannan based, in part, on Puckett's protected speech to her.

75. The City has taken the disingenuous position that Chief Hannan mistakenly

believed the Memo had previously been made public prior to its release by Chief Hannan

through the actions of others. However, upon information and belief, he knew or should have

known that no one else had released Puckett's personnel information. The timing of the

Personnel Action, and its subsequent public release, was motivated by Chief Hannan's willful

and malicious desire to retaliate against Puckett.

76. Upon information and belief, only Puckett, City Manager Carlee, City Attorney

Hagemann, and Chief Hannan had access to the Memo.

77. On or about March 9, 2016, WBTV-TV posted a story, which published the

Memo which had been leaked by Chief Hannan.

78. The story was distressing to Puckett and his family who were concerned that

Chief Hannan would try to fire Puckett.

79. The next day, March 10, 20l6, Chief Hannan held a meeting where it was decided

that Puckett could not access the 15th floor of the City Government Center without the prior

approval and this prohibition was added to the list of prohibitions previously set forth by City

Manager Carlee.

80. Puckett spoke with then-Council Member John Autry about the leak of his

protected personnel information and, on March 14, 2016, Autry brought a motion to City

Council to have City Attorney Hagemann investigate the source of the leak. However, City

t7
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 17 of 109
Attorney Hagemann, who was also present at the meeting, discouraged City Council from

investigating the source of the leak, stating that he did not have the capacity or ability to

subpoena documents or put anyone under oath to fully investigate the matter, even though City

Council has the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents and administer oaths per N.C.

Gen Stat§ 160A-80.

81. As a result, Autry withdrew his motion and the investigation was tabled for

another meeting after City Attorney Hagemann could get more information to City Council on

the scope of any potential investigation and what an investigation into the personnel leak would

look like.

82. After City Council foiled to act, Puckett sent a letter to City Council by email

stating that he would personally pay for lie detector testing for the people with known access to

the Memo in order to find the source of the leak. No one with access to the Memo (City

Manager Carlee, Chief Hannan, and City Attorney Hagemann) took Puckett up on his offer.

Indeed, no one from City Council responded to his email except for one City Council Member

who told Puckett to remove him from his City email from Puckett's email distribution list.

83. Puckett received a second memo on March 15, 2016 from Deputy Chief Pete Key

which banned him from visiting "the 151h floor without the approval upward through your chain

of command including the Fire Chief."

84. The 15th floor of the Government Center houses the offices of the City Manager,

City Attorney, Assistant City Managers, and all City Council Member. Accordingly, being

banned impeded Puckett's participation in the political process in direct violation of his

constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of association, and political activity.

18
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 18 of 109
85. The City has admitted in public documents that Puckett was the Vice President of

the CFFA at the time of this reprimand and that it banned Puckett from the 15th floor of the

Charlotte City Government Center.

Defendant admits that Marty Puckett ("Puckett") is Vice President of the


Charlotte Firefighters Association and that Carlee told Puckett that he
could not be a volunteer intern for Fallon and that Carlee reprimanded
Puckett for serving in that capacity. Defendant further admits that Carlee
banned Puckett from the 15th floor of the Charlotte City Government
Center.
[Eschert, No. 3: 16-cv-00295,Doc. 33].

86. Upon information and belief, the City knew that Puckett also used his access to

the 15th floor to lobby civic leaders to address issues including but not limited, on behalf of the

CFFA for important firefighter health and safety issues such as increased health insurance and

retirement benefits, National Fire Protection Association-required ("NFPA") physicals for all

firefighters, presumptive legislation for cancer, benefits for firefighter injuries and death,

maintaining the minimum staffing numbers for all fire apparatuses, such as fire trucks.

87. Chief Hannan lied about the leak of the Memo multiple times until he was caught

lying, and he was later was forced to admit via a letter to Puckett dated April 5, 2016 that he

(Chief Hannan) leaked the Memo to the media.

88. Mr. Carlee later testified in deposition that Chief Hannan initially lied about

leaking the memo:

Q. Did you have discussions with Chief Hannan about whether or not
he had leaked the memo?
A. I did.
Q. What did he tell you?
A. Told me that he had not.
Q. How many times did he deny it?
A. I don't know that he denied it more than once.
Q. Was his denial accurate?
A. It was not.

19
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 19 of 109
Q. How did you find out his denial was not accurate?
A. He retracted it and admitted that he had done it.
Q. When did he do that?
A. I confronted him directly on it on probably a Monday or a Tuesday,
and by the end of the week he admitted that he had, in fact, done it.
.. .I asked him straight up, directly, did - were you the one who did it,
because there was very limited access to that memo.

[Eschert, No. 3:16-cv-00295, Depo. Ronnie C. Carlee, 95:4-95:21; 96:15-96:16].


89. A closed session meeting of City Council was held on or about Monday, March

28, 2016 to discuss Chief Hannan's leak of Puckett's protected personnel information.

90. After City Council's closed session meeting, Chief Hannan was asked by a local

television reporter about whether he had in fact leaked the Memo, his immediate response was

"No."

91. Chief Hannan admitted that he was the source of the leak to City Manager Carlee

prior to this hearing, so his denial was another lie to the public. Indeed, the City admitted in

public documents that at the time Chief Hannan responded to the reporter's question, he had

already disclosed to City Manager Carlee his error in providing a copy of the Memo to the

media.

92. Despite the fact that the City knew that Chief Hannan was responsible for the

leak, it continued to support Chief Hannan and deny the leak publicly.

93. On Friday, April 1, 2016, a CFD Spokesperson disingenuously stated that Chief

Hannan did not tell the news reporter that he was not the source of the leaked Memo during the

news clip, but rather that he was telling the television reporter that he didn't have any

information about the investigation that he could share at that time. The City's attempt to spin

the story is contradicted by the media recording.

94. By Tuesday, April 5, 2016, Chief Hannan admitted to Puckett and the public that

he wrongfully released Puckett's protected personnel information to the media. Deputy Chief

20
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 20 of 109
Key called Puckett and told him to come uptown to meet with Chief Hannan in person although

Puckett was on sick leave at the time. When Puckett got to CFD Headquarters, Chief Hannan

read him a written apology and threw it at him. The City sent out a press release that same day,

belatedly acknowledging Chief Hannan's release of Puckett's protected information.

95. Chief Hannan's Jetter to Puckett, although apologizing for releasing the Personnel

Action, maintained that Chief Hannan thought the Memo was already made public and did not

think that the Memo reflected negatively on Puckett's performance as a Charlotte firefighter.

96. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan would not have released the Memo to

the media had he not believed doing so would harm Puckett.

97. The decision to issue the Memo and the unconstitutionaJ restrictions placed on

Puckett were directed and motivated by Chief Hannan's willful and malicious desire to restrict

and silence Puckett.

98. N.C. Gen Stat. l60A-l68(e) provides that:

A public official or employee who knowingly, willfully, and with malice permits
any person to have access to information contained in a personnel file, except as
is permitted by this section, is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and upon
conviction shall only be fined an amount not more than five hundred dollars
($500.00).

99. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan was placed on a mere three-month

probation and had a reprimand placed in his personnel file by City Manager Carlee.

100. The Fire Chief should have been held to a higher standard than others in the

department, not a lower standard.

Denied Grievances

101. On or about March 25, 2016, Puckett submitted two grievances to the City HR

Director Cheryl Brown his ban from political activity on the l 51h floor and the improper release

21
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 21 of 109
of his protected personnel infonnation. Pursuant to City policy HR 11, in effect at the time,

grieveable items include "Acts of harassment or reprisal (retaliation)."

102. With his grievances, Puckett requested documents considered to be either public

records under N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 132-1 or a part of Puckett's personnel file under N.C. Gen. Stat.

§ 160A-I68, but his request for records was denied by HR.

103. Puckett them submitted his request in the form of a formal public records request

and provided City HR Director Brown with a brochure from the North Carolina Attorney

General about public records laws, making clear that Puckett was entitled to the requested

information and documentation by statute.

104. Even though the Memo banned Puckett from engaging in political activity and

was then released to the media in clear retaliation for Puckett's association with Council Member

Fallon and her opposition to Chief Hannan, City HR denied it was a grievable matter.

105. City HR Director Brown wrote to Puckett:

Per HR 11, the Human Resources Key Business Executive [Brown] is authorized
to determine whether an item is grievable.
The City Manager's Office supports my authority to determine whether an item is
grievable and it supports my decision that your request to file a grievance
concerning the directive from City Manager Ron Carlee and concerning the
leaking of your personnel record to the news media are not grievable.
I believe I have answered all of your questions. This is the last communication
you wilJreceive from me regarding these two items.
106. Upon information and belief, the City Attorney's Office and City Manager's

Office were both involved in this decision.

107. When Puckett asked to appeal this decision, the City HR Director told him that

she had the final authority to decide whether or not his complaint was grievable and the matter

was not appealable to the City Manager's Office.

22
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 22 of 109
108. The City HR Director also told Puckett in writing that the City Manager

supported City HR's decision to determine that Puckett's complaint was not grievable.

109. On or about March 30, 2016, Puckett submitted a public records request for phone

records, text messages, and other electronic communications and documents related to Chief

Hannan's leak in order to support his grievance, but the request was purposefully held up. When

Puckett got the response to his public records request, the City failed to provide him with the

relevant date range Puckett needed in order to support his grievance. Upon information and

belief, the exclusion was intentional and in violation of public records laws.

l I0. On March 6, 2017, Puckett submitted a second public records request and sent it

directly to City IT for voice calls and text logs for Chief Hannan for dates ranges related to the

leak of Puckett's protected personnel information, but Puckett never received any information or

documents from City IT.

Crystal EschertSummary Judgmentand Trial

I 11. On March 8, 2017, Puckett signed an Affidavit which supported Crystal Eschert's

Motion in Opposition to the City's Motion for Summary Judgment (3: l6-cv-295, Doc.# 48-6).

In it, he called into question the credibility of Chief Hannan and Deputy Chief Granger for their

involvement in the termination of Crystal Eschert, stated he believed that both were wiJling to

resort to dishonesty to retaliate, and also stated that he believed that Chief Hannan and Deputy

Chief Granger disparaged him and that Chief Hannan leaked the Memo in retaliation for his

support of Crystal Eschert. Id.

112. After the City's Motion for Summary Judgment was denied on April 7, 2017,

Chief Hannan told Tom Brewer, President of the CFFA, that he would no longer meet with the

CFFA as long as Puckett was an officer of the CFFA.

23
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 23 of 109
113. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan held Puckett personaJJyresponsible

for Crystal Eschert's pursuit of her legal claims against the CFO and thought that he was a

driving force behind the case.

114. Before the Crystal Eschert case went to trial, Puckett was warned by Deputy

Chief Key that Chief Hannan told Deputy Chief Key, "I will get him back for this," referring to

Puckett's continued support of Crystal Eschert. Puckett took this to mean that Chief Hannan

wanted to find a reason to get him disciplined Qr fired or thought that it was maybe even a threat

of physical violence. Deputy Chief Key told Puckett, "Watch yourself. They are after you."

115. In April 2017, Puckett and approximately 70 other current City employees were

subpoenaed to testify at the federal trial of Esche rt v. City of Charlotte.

116. Deputy City Attorney Hope Root notified all City employees who were

subpoenaed that the City had accepted service of the Subpoenas on behalf of all City employees,

that the subpoenas were "considered a Court Order, and unless you are excused for any reason,

you must be available to testify at the trial if you are called."

117. Upon information and belief, the City employees who were called to testify were

allowed to take time off for their testimony and paid by the City for that time. However,

Puckett's Battalion Chief requested that Puckett submit additional documentation showing what

capacity Puckett testified and who he testified for (e.g., was he appearing on behalf of the City or

on behalf of Crystal Eschert, as a private citizen, or in his officiaJ capacity as a firefighter).

Upon information and belief, this request was made at the direction of Chief Hannan and Deputy

Chief Granger. Ultimately, Puckett was forced to take personal vacation time for complying

with the subpoena.

24
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 24 of 109
118. Puckett testified in front of Deputy City Attorney Hope Root, and others, as to the

circumstances that surrounded Crystal Eschert's termination; his conversations with Council

Member Fallon about Crystal Eschert; that the CFD held Crystal Eschert to a different standard

when it came to her social media posts; that firefighters who had not raised concerns about

employee health and safety were not scrutinized for their social media posts; and that the CFFA

had requested that the CFD provide social media training for firefighters, but the CFD refused,

and the CFFA brought in an outside vendor to do the training for firefighters.

Post-CrystalEschert Trial

119. After testifying at trial, Puckett was harassed and subjected to unwarranted threats

of discipline.

120. In addition, Deputy City Attorney Hope Root, and others who supported Chief

Hannan, disparaged Puckett and the CFFA President to City Council and leadership within the

City

121. On June 16, 2017, Puckett sent an email to all fire department personnel to thank

everyone for their condolences after the death of his father. He also included a saying that his

father told him when he was younger, "Never underestimate the power of a minority of

intentionally misinformed people to get a majority of uninformed people to work against their

own self-interest."

122. One fire department employee who was associated with and supportive of Chief

Hannan replied all saying, "Please remove me from your correspondence list. Thank you! JT"

123. Upon information and belief, Puckett's coworker was trying to bait Puckett, at the

direction of Chief Hannan, into responding angrily.

25
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 25 of 109
124. The coworker's email response was cailous and rude given the recent death of

Puckett's father and the intent of the email to express gratitude and thanks to the support of his

coworkers while he grieved.

125. After the email exchange, Deputy Chief Key told Puckett that Chief Hannan

wanted Deputy Chief Key to initiate an investigation of Puckett and his email and issue a write

up to Puckett. Chief Hannan wanted to use this email to retaliate against Puckett for his support

of Crystal Eschert and his testimony at trial, among other things. Upon information and belief,

the other coworker who did not support Crystal Eschert was never threatened with disciplinary

action.

126. Upon information and belief, Deputy Chief Key was able to hold up the write up

and any disciplinary action until after Chief Hannan's impending retirement, because he knew

any write up was unfair and retaliatory.

127. Chief Hannan' s retirement was announced on June 29, 20 I 7 and his retirement

was effective on or about August 31, 2017.

128. After his retirement was announced, but before the effective date, the Charlotte

Fire Department participated in an antique fire truck demonstration for the International

Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Fire-Rescue International Conference Expo held during July

26-29, 2017. Deputy Chief Pete Key asked Puckett and his all-Black/African American crew

from Station 36 to man the Neptune Hand Pumper-an antique fire truck that requires the crew

to hand pump the water. Puckett was serving as the acting officer that day. Also attending the

demonstration was Chief Hannan, who was manning the steamer truck, Old Sue, and other

firefighters from CFO as well as firefighters and fire chiefs from across the country, in addition

26
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 26 of 109
to the citizens of Charlotte. Chief Hannan came over to Puckett, and asked, "Who's in Charge

today? We don't need y'all. Y'all can go back to the station."

129. Puckett folJowedhis orders and began to gather his crew to leave. When another

CFO employee stopped to ask questions Puckett's crew questions about the mobile operations

center ("MOC"), Chief Hannan began yeJling at the employee saying, "Do not talk to them.

They have to get back to their station."

130. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan told many people that Puck~tt got

him fired.

131. Other firefighters who supported Chief Hannan harassed and attempted to

intimidate Puckett with a threat of physical violence because they held him responsible for Chief

Hannan's early retirement.

132. Upon information and belief, during a speaking engagement at UNCC after his

retirement, Chief Hannan told listeners that there were two people in the CFO that he "would

like to see in the grave." Firefighters in attendance at the meeting brought this information to

Puckett because they assumed that one of those two individuals Chief Hannan was referring to

was Puckett.

133. The threats to his job, the embarrassment of having his personnel info leaked and

published by the media at the request of a City Department head, and subsequent racial

harassment and intimidation have been extremely stressful to Puckett and his family.

CFFA Activity and Support of FirefighterRights

134. Puckett has been outspoken about equitable treatment, fair and equal

opportunities for advancement and promotion within the CFO for all firefighters since Chief

27
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 27 of 109
Hannan and CFO management was known to manipulate the promotional process in order to

promote based on personal preference rather than merit.

135. CFD management and City officials have also been known to ignore Council

Resolutions, including Civil Service guidelines and procedures approved by City Council, in an

effort to promote based on personal preference rather than merit.

136. Puckett helped several CFO employees with the grievance process and made

numerous public records requests about the promotional processes, which angered CFO

management.

137. Anonymous letters and cartoons have been sent to fire stations and the City

Manager's Office, claiming Puckett was racist or calling out Puckett's race (mixed heritage). In

Puckett's role with the CFFA, he supported the rights of all firefighters. Puckett's detractors,

including upon information and belief, Chief Hannan, said that Puckett only supported black

firefighters in attempt to pit him against other white firefighters.

138. In January 2017, the CFFA sent out a newsletter which included a video of

Puckett and the CFFA President talking about many issues that were important to firefighters,

including the refusal of Chief Hannan to promote two firefighters from the eligibility list and a

lawsuit filed against the City regarding vacation payouts. Upon information and belief, Chief

Hannan was furious over the video and went to the City Attorneys' office to see if there was any

action he could take against Puckett and the CFFA for their actions.

139. Puckett has also actively spoken out for other employees who have been retaliated

against for exercising their free speech, including:

a. The first black female firefighter with the CFO, who has spoken to the media and

City Council about race and gender discrimination within the CFO;

28
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 28 of 109
b. A white male who was discriminated and retaliated against for continuing to

associate with the first black female firefighter after she became persona non

grata for speaking out publicly about race and gender discrimination and

retaliation within the CFD;

c. A white male who complained about violations of ethics and conflicts of interest

rules by CFO management and employees, including using City property to film a

watch commercial and receipt of free watches as gifts;

d. Fire Academy recruits of different races who were forced to resign without due

process in violation of the City, CFO, and state laws; and,

e. The first black female Captain with the CFD, who has been forced to file multiple

grievances, EEOC charges, and a lawsuit due to race and gender discrimination

within the CFO and the CFD's failure to hold a validate, fair, non-discriminatory,

and non-manipulatedpromotional process.

COUNTI
(42 U.S.C. § 1983 - The City's First AmendmentRetaliationof Puckett's Exerciseof
ProtectedSpeech; PoliticalSpeech, Activityand Activism;and Union Activity or
Associationwith CFFA)
140. The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated herein

by reference.

141. Puckett has the right, protected under the First Amendment to the U.S.

Constitution, to speak as a citizen on matters of public interest, including political speech,

activity, activism, and has the right to engage in union activity on behalf of or associate with

CFFA, particularly related to abuse of power, dishonesty, discrimination, and retaliation by

management of the CFD condoned by the City, particularly since the CFO provides an important

29
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 29 of 109
public service for the health and safety of the citizens of the community, and to properly manage

taxpayer dollars.

Protected Speech

142. Puckett has the further right under the First Amendment not to be punished or

retaliated against by his employer for speaking out as a citizen on matters of public interest and

concern, or for engaging in protected expressive activity.

143.Puckettspoke out against abuse of power, dishonesty, discrimination, corrnption, and

retaliation by management of the CFO condoned by City Management, particularly since the

CFD provides an important public service for the safety and health of the citizens of the

community.

144.Puckettwas concerned about the CFD's/City's abuse of power and its termination of

Crystal Eschert as a means to retaliate and silence her complaints about health and safety. In

contrast, the CFO did not take comparable action against City and CFD officials who actually

violated federal law, North Carolina law, and City/CFO policies such as when Chief Hannan

leaked Puckett's protected personnel information.

145.Exposinggovernmental inefficiency,corruption, misconduct, and retaliation is a

matter of considerable significance.

Political Speech, Activity, and Activism

146.Puckettbegan assisting Council Member Fallon with City Council activities, helping

her with research, attending meetings with her, and carrying boxes for her since she was a little

unsteady on her feet and could not lift and carry heavy boxes.

147.Notonly was Puckett volunteering for Council Member Fallon, he was also actively

involved in the local chapter of the NAACP.

30
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 30 of 109
148.TheCity's restrictions on Puckett's access to city officials was retaliatory and an

impennissible effort to suppress his political speech and association.

149.Puckett's political speech is absolutely protected under the First Amendment because

he was engaging in the political process and associating himself with political entities, leaders,

and during his off-duty time.

150. North Carolina Statutes encourage public employees to engage in the political

process and maintain political associations by granting public employees protection from duress

or coercion related to their employment with a public entity.

15I.The statutes recognize that public employees, based upon their position within

government, gain an important perspective and understanding of the government that will benefit

the general public if it is not restricted or limited. N.C. Gen. Stat. § l 60A-l 69(a) specifically

states:

Employees shall not be restricted from affiliating with c1v1c


organizations of a partisan or political nature, nor shall employees,
while off duty, be restricted from attending political meetings, or
advocating and supporting the principles or policies of civic or
political organizations, or supporting partisan or nonpartisan
candidates of their choice in accordance with the Constitution and
laws of the State and the Constitution and laws of the United States
of America.

152.TheCity's attempts to categorize Puckett's volunteering for Council Member Fallon

as a violation of City ordinance was retaliatory and an impennissible effort to suppress his

political speech and activity.

Union Activity or Association with CFFA

153.Puckett, as a member of the CFFA, engaged in the protected activity of

communicating

31
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 31 of 109
with City government officials on behalf of all CFO firefighters. In 2012, he served as treasurer

of CFFA, and in 2016, served as Vice President.

154. CFFA, through the efforts of Puckett, provided assistance to Eschert before and

during her trial. Puckett's affiliation with CFFA was well known by CFO and the City.

155. As a leader within CFFA, Puckett would also engage in activities that brought

him into connection with City governmentofficials above and beyond his duties as a fire fighter.

156.Puckett's speech as a member of CFFA was not as a public employee but as a private

citizen because his role as a firefighter did not involve him interacting with city officials on

behalf of other firefighters.

157.TheCity maintains a widespread custom or practice of discriminating and retaliating

against those who associate with or seek assistance from CFFA or its members.

158.The City's widespread custom or practice of discriminating and retaliating against

those who associate with the CFFA is pervasive, permanent, well-settled and constitutes a

discriminatory and retaliatory custom or usage with force of law.

159.TheCity has admitted some of the harassment and retaliation against Puckett,

including the leaking of protected personnel information that was the subject of intense media

scrutiny.

160. The City's reliance on "misunderstanding" as a basis for harassing, retaliating

against, and disciplining Puckett by removing his access to City government officials, including

the City Council, the Mayor, and City Manager's offices, is disingenuous and seeks to

disenfranchise Puckett of his right to engage in political activity.

161.TheCity provided open access to the public to City government officials, including

32
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 32 of 109
the City Council, the Mayor, and City Manager's offices; allowing any member of the public to

come and provide their opinions and concerns to the government officials directly, but denied

these rights to Puckett.

162.Puckett engaged in various protected activities under the First Amendment as set

forth above, and including but not limited to:

a. His activities to support firefighter rights on behalf of the CFFA;

b. His support of Crystal Eschert in her action against the City, serving as an advocate
for her and witness at her termination hearing, and later as a witness at the Civil
Service Board hearing and federal court trial;

c. His political speech and political activism included vetting and supporting political
candidates.

d. Volunteering his time as an intern for Council Member Claire FalJon and engaging in
political activity and advocacy as set forth above and as contemplated by N.C. Gen.
Stat.§ 160A-169(a);

e. His active involvement in the local chapter of the NAACP;

f. His concerns about the misuse of grant monies that he voiced to City Council; and

g. His support of minorities whom the City unfairly denied promotions by manipulating
the promotional process;

h. Lobbying for laws protecting minorities from police brutality at the state, federal, and
local levels, including discussing these matters with Chief Kerr Putney and discussing
Chief Hannan with Chief Putney; and

i. In other ways to be proven at trial.

163. The City retaliated against Puckett when it limited his First Amendment rights by

denying him access, chilling his protected speech, and treating him differently than his non-

union coworkers and coworkers who did not support Crystal Eschert or oppose the CFD's abuse

of power and retaliatory culture when it:

a. Released his protected personnel information to the media in violation of N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 160A-168;

33
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 33 of 109
b. Banned his access to the 15th floor of the government center, thereby limiting his
access to a public forum;

c. Denied him access to public records and documents that are a part of his personnel file
pursuant to state statute;

d. Failing to comply with his public records requests;

e. Required him to use personal vacation time to testify at the trial of Escher/ v. City of
Charlottealthough it paid other City employees for their time testifying;

f. Changed requirements for instructors so that Puckett could no longer serve as an


instructor, causing him loss of income;

g. Conditioned his public employment on a basis that infringes Puckett's


constitutionally protected interest in freedom of speech and expression;

h. Otherwise harassed, intimidated, and threatened Puckett with disciplinary action,


termination, and even physical harm; and

i. In other ways to be proven at trial.

164. Additionally, the City and City Council members tried to silence and retaliated

against Puckett and those associated with him in the following ways including but not limited to:

a. A City Council member called Linda Lockhart, a black female CFD employee
who complained to City Council about race and gender discrimination, unequal
pay, and retaliation, and asked her to stop speaking out at City Council meetings
and to the media;

b. City Council removed the public comments section of City Council meetings
from the public access television broadcasts;

c. The City denied access to CFD demonstrations at the Ballantyne Summer


Barbecue organized by Ray Eschert, for several years;

d. City Council refused funding provided in the past to Corine Mack's programs
including Uprising to Uplift Charlotte, which provides assistance to the
community in the areas of job skills, racism and implicit bias, overcoming barriers
to housing, and conflict resolution. Corine Mack was the President of the local
NAACP chapter while Puckett was Vice President, and Ms. Mack testified
against the City at the Crystal Eschert trial~

e. In other ways to be proven at trial.

34
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 34 of 109
165.Puckett's speech, political speech, and political activity, and union activity or

association with CFFA are absolutely protected under the First Amendment.

166. Puckett's speech about protecting City employees from retaliation are about

matters of public concern because it exposed both actual and potential wrongdoing.

167. Puckett's speech about corrupt or illegal practices within the City or CFD

involves matters of public concern, involves political speech, and is protected under the First

Amendment.

168. Puckett spoke as a private citizen and not as an employee, because his official job

duties were to work as a firefighter and did not entail political or employee advocacy.

169. The City's/CFD's interest in maintaining discipline and ensuring harmony as

necessary to the operation of its mission of promoting public safety was not impaired by

Puckett's speech, association, or CFFA activities.

170. The legitimate interests of the CFO do not include abuse of power, dishonesty by

management, corrupt or illegal practices, coverups, or retaliation against and wrongful

termination of employees who voice concerns about these issues, and health and safety of City

employees.

17l. Puckett's interest in expressing these concerns did not compete with the CFD's

interest in providing efficient and effective services to the public.

l 72. Rather, Puckett's speech is a critical component of holding the City government

accountable for the good of its employees and the community they serve.

173. It is important that employees of the CFO be free to speak out about matters of

public interest and public policy, and engage in employee, citizen, and community activism.

35
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 35 of 109
174. We live in a democracy where citizens are allowed to have differing opinions and

participate in matters of public debate.

175. Puckett's speech, political activity, union activity or association with CFFA at

issue in this action did not create any perceived risk to the CFD's interests, any such

apprehension by the City was unreasonable and was outweighed by Puckett's meritorious

interest.

176. The CFD has harassed and retaliated against Puckett in retaliation for his political

speech and speech advocating for the rights of Crystal Eschert and opposing her wrongful

termination

177. The City has admitted some of the harassment and retaliation against Puckett,

including the leaking of protected personnel information that was the subject of intense media

scrutiny.

178. The City's stated reason for harassing, retaliating against, and disciplining Puckett

by removing his access to City government officials, including the City Council, the Mayor, and

City Manager's offices, is disingenuous and seeks to disenfranchise Puckett of his right to

engage in political activity.

179. The actions of the CFO and the City, as described above, violated Puckett's

rights. The City retaliated against Puckett because he engaged in speech, political activity, union

activity and association with CFFA protected by the First Amendment, as punishment for his

exercise of his rights, and did so without any legitimatejustification.

180. As a result of the violations of his First Amendment rights, Puckett has suffered

harassment, retaliation, defamation, and lost income.

36
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 36 of 109
181. Puckett has been punished and threatened for his protected speech and activities,

and his exercise of those rights have been improperly chilled.

182. Puckett requests injunctive relief to stop current practices of the City, including an

Order requiring the City to l) cease harassing and retaliating against him; 2) to alJow him to

work as an instructor; 3) to cease disparaging and excluding him, and 4) to cease targeting and

retaliating against those he associates with or those he tries to help.

183. As a result of the City's actions, Plaintiff is entitled to recover from the City

damages in excess of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at

trial including consequential, general, special, punitive, compensatory, injunctive relief to deter

similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre- and

post-judgment interest; the costs of this action; and reasonable attorneys' fees pursuant to 42

u.s.c.§ 1988.
COUNT11
(42 U.S.C. § 1983 -The City's Violationsof SubstantiveDue Process, ProceduralDue
Process, and Equal ProtectionUnder the FourteenthAmendment)

184. The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated herein

by reference.

185. The City and its officials acted under color of state and federal law and with

reckless or deliberate indifference to Puckett's constitutional rights and with malice when they

intentionally and without justification released his confidential personnel memo to the media,

and thus the public, while the files of other similarly situated employees were not released.

186. The Fourteenth Amendment protects against arbitrary government action that is

so egregio.usthat it "shocks the conscience" or offends a "sense of justice."

37
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 37 of 109
187. Puckett's right to be free of arbitrary and discriminatory application of law

governing release of confidential personnel file was a clearly established one of which

reasonable public officials would have known, and did know.

188. Chief Hannan's actions in intentionally releasing Puckett's personnel information

in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights and the City's refusal to hear Puckett's

grievance regarding the same were arbitrary government actions so egregious they shock the

conscience and offend a sense of justice.

189. A violation of the confidentiality of personnel records under North Carolina

statute N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-168 and refusal to hear Puckett's grievance may result in

constitutional claims under § I983 including: substantive due process, procedural due process,

and equal protection claims.

190. The City's actions through Chief Hannan in leaking Puckett's protected personnel

information and denying Puckett's grievance regarding the same were irrational and arbitrary,

and motivated by ill will resulting from Puckett's constitutionally protected speech as

demonstrated above and was based on an intentional or reckless disregard for and deliberate

indifference to Puckett's rights.

19 l. The City had knowledge of and ratified Chief Hannan's wrongful actions and

violated Puckett's constitutional rights and failed to take appropriate action against Chief

Hannan.

192.Pucketthas been punished and threatened for his protected speech and activities, and

his exercise of those rights have been improperly chilled.

193. Puckett's rights to procedural and substantive due process and equal protection were

38
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 38 of 109
further violated when the City, through Cheryl Brown, refused to accept Puckett's grievance

regarding the retaliatory leak of his confidential personnel information, and directly violated the

City's Grievance policy, HR 11, in effect at the time, which states: "Acts of harassment or

reprisal (retaliation)" are grievable under the City's Human Resources policy, yet the City

refused to hear his grievance in violation of its own grievance polky.

194. As a result of the City's conduct, Puckett has suffered harassment, retaliation,

defamation, and Jost income.

195. Puckett requests injunctive relief to stop current practices of the City, including an

Order requiring the City to l) cease harassing and retaliating against him; 2) to allow him to

work as an instructor; 3) to cease disparaging and excluding him, and 4) to cease targeting and

retaliating against those he associates with or those he tries to help.

196.As a result of the City's actions, Plaintiff is entitled to recover from the City damages

in excess of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at trial

including consequential, general, special, punitive, compensatory, injunctive relief to deter

similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre- and

post-judgment interest; the costs of this action; and reasonable attorneys' fees pursuant to 42

u.s.c.§ 1988.
COUNTIII

(The City's Violationsof the Constitutionof the State of North Carolina:Article 1, Section
14 -Freedom of Speech; and Section 19- Law of the Land; Equal Protectionof the Laws)

197. The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated

herein by reference.

198. No other state law is available to remedy Puckett's injuries, and he may plead the

following claims under the North Carolina Constitution.

39
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 39 of 109
199.The City acted under color of state law and with reckless or deliberate indifference to

Puckett's constitutional rights and with malice.

Article I, Section 14. Freedom of Speech

200. Article I, Section 14 of the North Carolina State Constitution provides:

Freedom of speech and of the press are two of the great bulwarks of liberty and
therefore shall never be restrained, but every person shall be held responsible for
their abuse.

201. Puckett engaged in constitutionally protected speech, political activity and

activism, and union activity or association as set forth above.

202. As a result of Puckett's protected activities, the City retaliated against him as set

forth above in violation of Puckett's state and federal constitutional rights.

Article I. Section 19. Law of the Land; Equal Protection of the Laws

203. Article I, Section 19 of the North Carolina State Constitution provides:

No person shall be taken, imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, or


privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner deprived of his life, liberty, or
property, but by the law of the land. No person shall be denied the equal
protection of the laws; nor shall any person be subjected to discrimination by the
State because of race, color, religion, or national origin.

204.The City and its officials acted under color of state and federal law and with reckless

or deliberate indifference to Puckett's constitutional rights and with malice when they

intentionally and without justification released the memo containing his confidential personnel

information to the media, and thus the public, while the files of other similarly situated

employees were not released.

205.The state Constitution protects against arbitrary government action that is so

egregious that it "shocks the conscience" or offends a "sense of justice."

206.Puckett's right to be free of arbitrary and discriminatory application of law governing

40
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 40 of 109
release of the confidential personnel memo was a clearly established one of which reasonable

public officials would have known, and did know.

207.Chief Hannan's actions in intentionally releasing Puckett's personnel information

in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights and the City's .refusal to hear and denial

of Puckett's grievance regarding the same was an arbitrary government action that is so

egregious it shocks the conscience and offends a sense of justice.

208.A violation of the confidentiality of personnel records under North Carolina statute

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A•l68 and the deprivation of Puckett's right to grieve said violations

violated his state and federal constitutional rights to substantive due process, procedural due

process, and equal protection.

209.The City's actions through Chief Hannan in leaking Puckett's protected personnel

information was irrational and arbitrary, and motivated by ill will resulting from Puckett's

constitutionally protected speech as demonstrated above and was based on an intentional or

reckless disregard for and deliberate indifference to Puckett's rights.

6. Puckett's rights to procedural and substantive due process and equal protection were

further violated when the City, through Cheryl Brown, refused to accept Puckett's grievance

regarding the retaliatory leak of his confidential personnel information, the City Human

Resources Policy, HR 11, in effect at the time, which states: "Acts of harassment or reprisal

(retaliation)" are grievable under the City's Human Resources policy, yet the City refused to hear

his grievance in violation of its own grievance policy.

210.The City had knowledge of and ratified Chief Hannan and Cheryl Brown's wrongful

actions and violated Puckett's constitutional rights and failed to take appropriate action against

him.

41
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 41 of 109
211.Puckett has been punished and threatened for his protected speech and activities, and

his exercise of those rights have been improperlychilled.

212.As a result of the City's conduct, Puckett has suffered harassment, retaliation,

defamation, and lost income.

213. The City knew, or should have known, in the exercise of its duties, that the City

violated Puckett's constitutionally protected rights.

214. The City acted in a retaliatory, arbitrary, discriminatory, and/or improperly

motivated manner by failing to abide by state and federal laws, statutes, and its own policies and

procedures.

215. To the extent the City purports to have legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for

taking adverse actions against Puckett, such reasons are pretextual and only serve to cover the

City's true reasons: Puckett's constitutionally protected activities.

216. Puckett requests injunctive relief to stop current practices of the City, including an

Order requiring the City to l) cease harassing and retaliating against him; 2) to a!Jow him to

work a, an instructor; 3) to cease disparaging and excluding him, and 4) to cease targeting and

retaliating against those he associates with or those he tries to help.

217. As a result, Plaintiff is entitled to recover from the City damages in excess of

twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at trial, including

consequential, general, special, and compensatory damages; injunctive relief to deter similar

misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre- and post-

judgment interest; and the costs of this action.

COUNTIV
(Civil ConspiracyAgainstAll Defendants)

218.The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated herein by

42
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 42 of 109
reference.

219. The City, Chief Hannan (in his official and individual capacity), Cheryl Brown (in

her official and individual capacity), and those yet unknown acting in concert with them, had an

agreement to conspire against Puckett, to leak the memo in retaliation for his protected activities

and then deny Puckett the opportunity to file a grievance, and to commit unlawful acts against

him.

220. Defendants' overt acts against Puckett were taken pursuant to a common

agreement and in furtherance of a common objective - to retaliate against and violate Puckett's

rights and coverup their own unlawful behavior.

221. Defendants and those acting in concert with them acted in concert to injure

Puckett and wantonly or intentionally schemed to retaliate against him by committing the

unlawful acts alleged. Defendants' actions were done to further their personal motives.

222.Defendants' conduct was malicious, willful, wanton, and done with reckless

disregard for Puckett's rights, entitling Puckett to an award of punitive damages against the

individual Defendants pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1 D-1, et seq. in an amount to be

determined at trial, sufficient to punish Defendants for their wrongful conduct and to deter

such conduct in the future by Defendants and others similarly situated.

223. As a result, Puckett is entitled to recover from Defendants damages in excess of

twenty.five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at trial, including punitive

damages against the individual Defendants, consequential, general, special, and compensatory

damages; injunctive relief to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages

for emotional distress; pre• and post-judgment interest; and the ·costs of this action from all

Defendants.

43
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 43 of 109
PRAYER FOR RELIEF

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully prays the Court as follows:

1. Pursuant to Count One (42 U.S.C. § 1983 - First Amendment Retaliation Against

the City), that Plaintiff have and recover from the City all damages in excess of $25,000.00 as set

forth above in an amount to be proven at trial, including consequential, general, special, punitive,

compensatory, injunctive relief to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay;

damages for emotional distress; pre- and post-judgment interest; reasonable attorneys' fees; and

the costs of this action;

2. Pursuant to Count Two (42 U.S.C. § 1983 - The City's Violations of Substantive

Due Process, Procedural Due Process, and Equal Protection Under the Fourteenth

Amendmelll), that Plaintiff have and recover from the City all damages in excess of $25,000.00

as set forth above in an amount to be proven at trial, including consequential, general, special,

punitive, compensatory, injunctive relief to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay;

front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre- and post-judgment interest; reasonable attorneys'

fees; and the costs of this action;

3. Pursuant to Count Three {The City's Violations of the Constitution of the State of

North Carolina: Article 1, Section 14 - Freedom of Speech; and Section 19 - Law of the land;

Equal Protection of the laws), that Plaintiff have and recover from the City all damages in

excess of $25,000.00 as set forth above in an amount to be proven at trial, including

consequential, general, special, punitive, compensatory, injunctive relief to deter similar

misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre- and post-

judgment interest; and the costs of this action;

4. Pursuant to Count Four (Civil Conspiracy Against All Defendants), that Plaintiff have and

44
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 44 of 109
recover from Conner aJJ damages in excess of $25,000.00 in an amount to be proven at trial,

including As a result, Puckett is entitled to recover from Defendants damages in excess of

twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at trial, including punitive

damages against the individual Defendants, consequential, general, special, and compensatory

damages; injunctiverelief to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages

for emotional distress; pre- and post-judgment interest; and the costs of this action from all

Defendants.

5. That the Court order injunctive relief against Defendants to deter similar

misconduct in the future;

6. That Plaintiff have and recover all costs incurred in this action, including

attorneys' fees;

7. That Defendants be held jointly and severally liable;

8. The cost of this action be taxed against the Defendants;

9. That this matter proceed to trial before a jury; and

10. That the Court may grant such other and further relief as it deems proper.

Respectfully submitted, this the 25th day of March, 2019.

MALONEY LAW & ASSOCIATES, PLLC

rgatet Behringer Maloney, N.C. Bar No. 13253


J nn'fer Diane Spyker, N.C. Bar No. 46048
l ? East Seventh Street
Charlotte, NC 28204
mmaloney@maloneylegal.com
jspyker@maloneyleiml.com
Telephone: (704) 632-1622
Facsimile: (704) 632-1623
Attorneysfor Plaintiff

45
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 45 of 109
~ileNo.
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
FilmNo.
____ M_e_c_k_le_n_bu_r_g
___ County 19-CVS-4139
In The General Court Of Justice
D District Ii] Superior Court Division
Name Of Plaintiff

Martv Puckett DELAYED SERVICE


VERSUS OF
Name Of Defendant
COMPLAINT
G.S. 1A-1, Rules 3 & 4
Citv of Charlotte
TO: TO:
Name And Address Of Defendant 1 Name And Address Of Defendant 2
City of Charlotte
Attn: Marcus Jones, City Manager
600 East 4th Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

You are being served with a copy of the complaint in this action, the delayed filing of which was ordered when the
summons was issued. You must:

1. Serve a copy of your written answer to the complaint upon the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney within thirty (30) days
after you have been served. You may serve your answer by delivering a copy to the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney or
by mailing a copy to one of them at his/her last known address.

2. File the original of the written answer with the Clerk of Superior Court of the county named above.

If you fail to answer the complaint, the plaintiff will apply to the Court for the relief demanded in the complaint.

Name And Address Of Plaintiffs Attorney (If None, Address Of Plaintiff)

Margaret B. Maloney
Maloney Law & Associates, PLLC
1824 East Seventh Street
Charlotte, NC 28204

Original File Copy-Each Defendant Copy-Attorney/Plaintiff


AOC-CV-103, Rev. 1/10 (Over)
© 2010 Administrative Office of the Courts

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 46 of 109


RETURN OF SERVICE
I certify that this Document and a copy of the Complaint were received and served as follows:

DEFENDANT 1
Date Served Time Served Name Of Defendant
0AM 0PM

D By delivering to the defendant named above a copy of this Document and Complaint.
D By leaving a copy of this Document and Complaint at the dwelling house or usual place of abode of the defendant named
above with a person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein.
D As the defendant is a corporation, service was effected by delivering a copy of this Document and Complaint to the
person named below.
Name And Address Of Person With Whom Copies Left (if corporation, give title of person copies left with)

D Service Accepted By Defendant


Date Accepted Time Served Signature
0AM □ PM
D Other Manner Of Service (specify)

D Defendant WAS NOT served for the following reason:

DEFENDANT2
Date Served Time Served Name Of Defendant
□ AM 0PM

D By delivering to the defendant named above a copy of this Document and Complaint.
D By leaving a copy of this Document and Complaint at the dwelling house or usual place of abode of the defendant named
above with a person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein.
0 a
As the defepdant is corporation, service was effected by delivering a copy of this Document and Complaint to the
person named below. '
Name ljnd Address Of Person With Whom Copies Left (if corporation, give title of person copies left with)

D Service Accepted By Defendant


Date Accepted Time Served Signature
0AM 0PM

D Other Manner Of Service (specify)

D Defendant WAS NOT served for the following reason:

Service Fee Paid Date Received Name Of Sheriff


$
Paid By Date Of Return County

Deputy Sheriff Making Return

AOC-CV-103, Side Two, Rev. 1/10


© 201 OAdministrative Office of the Courts

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 47 of 109


File No.
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA 19-CVS-4139

MECKLENBURG County In The General Court Of Justice


D District Ii] Superior Court Division
Name Of Plaintiff
Marty Puckett
Address
c/o Maloney Law and Assocaites, PLLC, 1824 East Seventh Street CIVIL SUMMONS
City, state, Zip Ii] ALIAS AND PLURIES SUMMONS (ASSESS FEE)
Charlotte, NC 28204
VERSUS G.S. 1A-1, Rules 3, 4
Name Of Defendant(s) Date Original Summons Issued

City of Charlotte 03-04-2019


Date(s) Subsequent Summons(es) Issued

To Each Of The Defendant(s) Named Below:


Name And Address Of Defendant 1 Name And Address Of Defendant 2

City of Charlotte
Attn: Marcus Jones, City Manager
600 East 4th Street
Charlotte NC 28202

A Civil Action Has Been Commenced Against You!

You are notified to appear and answer the complaint of the plaintiff as follows:
1. Serve a copy of your written answer to the complaint upon the plaintiff or plaintiff's attorney within thirty (30) days after
you have been served. You may serve your answer by delivering a copy to the plaintiff or by mailing it to the plaintiff's
last known address, and

2. File the original of the written answer with the Clerk of Superior Court of the county named above.

If you fail to answer the complaint, the plaintiff will apply to the Court for the relief demanded in the complaint.
Name And Address Of Plaintiffs Attorney (If None, Address Of Plaintiff)
Margaret B. Maloney
Maloney Law & Associates, PLLC
1824 East Seventh__Street
Charlotte, NC 28204

0 ENDORSEMENT (ASSESS FEE)


Date Of Endorsement I Time □ AM
This Summons was originally issued on the date □ PM
Signature
indicated above and returned not served. At the request
of the plaintiff, the time within which this Summons must
be served is extended sixty (60) days. □ DeputyCSC D Assistant CSC D Clerk Of Superior Court

NOTE TO PARTIES: Many counties have MANDATORY ARBITRATION programs in which most cases where the amount in controversy is $15,000 or
Jess are heard by an arbitrator before a trial. The parties will be notified if this case is assigned for mandatory arbitration, and, if
so, what procedure is to be followed.

AOC-CV-100, Rev. 6/11 (Over)


© 2011 Administrative Office of the Courts

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 48 of 109


RETURN OF SERVICE
I certify that this Summons and a copy of the complaint were received and served as follows:
DEFENDANT1
Date Served Time Served Name Of Defendant
□ AM O PM

D By delivering to the defendant named above a copy of the summons and complaint.

D By leaving a copy of the summons and complaint at the dwelling house or usual place of abode of the defendant named
above with a person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein.

D As the defendant is a corporation, service was effected by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the
person named below.
Name And Address Of Person With Whom Copies Left (if corporation, give title of person copies left with)

D Other manner of service (specify)

D Defendant WAS NOT served for the following reason:

DEFENDANT2
Date Served Time Served Name Of Defendant
□ AM □ PM

D By delivering to the defendant named above a copy of the summons and complaint.

D By leaving a copy of the summons and complaint at the dwelling house or usual place of abode of the defendant named
above with a person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein.

D As the defendant is a corporation, service was effected by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the
person named below.
Name And Address Of Person With Whom Copies Left (if corporation, give title of person copies left with)

D Other manner of service (specify)

D Defendant WAS NOT served for the following reason.

Service Fee Paid Signature Of Deputy Sheriff Making Return


$
Date Received Name Of Sheriff (Type Or Print)

Date Of Return County Of Sheriff

AOC-CV-100, Side Two, Rev. 6/11


© 2011 Administrative Office of the Courts

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 49 of 109


STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA -" :,INTHE GENERAL COURT OF JUSTICE
t
I, SUPERIOR COURT DIVISION
COUNTY OF MECKLENBURG O'.J\
/.ii i J
''"1
.
~-1,-, \,.,-'.') 19-CVS-4139

MARTY PUCKETT,

Plaintiff,
V. AMENDED COMPLAINT
(Jury Trial Demanded)
CITY OF CHARLOTTE,

Defendants.

COMES NOW Plaintiff Marty Puckett, complaining of Defendant City of Charlotte, and

alleges as follows:

INTRODUCTION AND NATURE OF ACTION

1. Puckett, an employee of the City, brings this action against the City for violations

of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions, including retaliation for engaging in

protected speech, freedom of association, and political activity; violations of procedural and

substantive due process and equal protection.

PARTIES

2. Plaintiff Marty Puckett ("Plaintiff' or "Puckett") is an adult citizen and resident of

Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

3. Upon information and belief, Defendant City of Charlotte ("City" or "Defendant")

is organized by City Charter under § 160A of the North Carolina General Statutes, and has its

principal office and place of business in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where it

maintains and administers a fire department known as the Charlotte Fire Department ("CFD" or

"Fire Department") which employs Puckett.

1
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 50 of 109
4. To the extent it is applicable, the City has adopted a plan of insurance pursuant to

N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 160-A-485 and has waived its immunity from civil liability.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

5. The unlawful practices alleged in this Amended Complaint were committed in

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

6. Jurisdiction and venue are proper in this court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-75 .4

and 1-79 and 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(2).

BACKGROUND

7. Puckett is a lifelong Charlottean. Puckett became employed by the CFD as a

firefighter on or about November 30, 1992 and is a Firefighter II.

8. As a Firefighter II, Puckett responds to fire incidents and other emergency

situations called into 911, the City's emergency number. He also has specialized training for more

technical and difficult rescues, including dive rescues, swift water rescues, trench rescues,

confined space rescues, and urban search and rescue. His performance has been

meets/exceeds/exceptional throughout his career.

9. Throughout his tenure with the Fire Department, Puckett has dedicated himself to

the City and its citizens and employees, and he has strived to make the CFD a better place to work

and more effective at serving Charlotte's diverse community. He is committed to working with

anyone who can help create necessary change.

10. Puckett is a member of the Charlotte Firefighters Association ("CFFA") and has

served in various roles, including Vice President, Treasurer, Political Action Director, and Chair

of the Grievance Committee. Puckett was also a Board member to the Charlotte Firefighters

Charities, which is a nonprofit foundation that provides educational programs in schools, public

safety seminars, emergency funding for firefighter families in need, emergency funding for

2
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 51 of 109
families dislocated due to fire or other events, and financial support for maintenance and upkeep

of the historical Palmer Building.

11. Puckett was also appointed by two different mayors to serve consecutive terms on

the City's Board and Commission on Community Relations and the Firefighters Relief Fund.

12. Puckett attended statewide and national meetings and worked at the state and

federal levels on legislation and with the Professional Firefighters and Paramedics of North

Carolina ("PFFPNC"). Puckett also served on the executive board of PFFPNC for a term.

13. Puckett was the Vice President of the Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council

and was the President of the North Carolina Hear Our Public Employees Coalition ("HOPE").

HOPE is an initiative by the North Carolina State American Federation of Labor and Congress of

Industrial Organizations ("NC State AFL-CIO"), a North Caroltna association of unions.

14. Puckett has been involved with the local chapter of the National Association for the

Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") for several years and served as its Vice President for

two terms. He helped establish local and state candidate forums through his position with the

NAACP. Puckett currently sits on the NAACP Executive Council as Labor Chair.

15. Puckett has advocated for firefighter rights and equal opportunity for advancement.

He has been outspoken about increasing opportunities for minorities within the CFD and

supportive of fair and non-discriminatory employment practices. He has been especially vocal

about opposing CFD leadership's abuses of power, culture of fear and retaliation, and its silencing

of anyone who can expose corruption. Puckett strongly believes that the government needs to

work in the best interest of the community it serves.

16. Puckett was retaliated against by the City as a result of his outspokenness and

political activities, including:

3
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 52 of 109
a. His activities to support firefighter rights on behalf of the CFFA;

b. His support of Crystal Eschert in her action against the City, serving as an advocate

for her and witness at her termination hearing, and later as a witness at the Civil

Service Board hearing and federal court trial;

c. His complaints to City Council and others, including members of the media,

including complaints regarding his concerns about the misuse of grant monies,

manipulation of vacation/holiday pay, manipulation of the retirement system,

revenue diversion, misuse of the appropriated funds for staffing, unfunded

liabilities in the Charlotte Firefighters Retirement System, refusal of the CFD to

have a validated promotional process and follow City Council Resolution and

procedures in place to ensure a fair promotional process for firefighters, especially

minorities, failure of the CFD to pay for all eligible employees to be on the North

Carolina State Firemen's Association Relief Fund Roster, Grant Assurances, CFD

attaining international accreditation and ISO class rating of 1 under false pretenses,

and the Police Chief and Fire Chief pushing to put puppets on the Civil Service

Board to support them;

d. His support of minorities who the City unfairly denied promotions by manipulating

the promotional process;

e. His political activities such as work to vet and endorse candidates for local, state,

and federal offices; and,

f. His assistance to City Council Member Claire Fallon ("Council Member Fallon"),

an independent and outspoken member of City Council.

4
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 53 of 109
17. The City retaliated against Puckett when it limited Puckett's political speech by

denying him access, treating him differently than his non-union coworkers and coworkers who did

not support Crystal Eschert and oppose the CFD's abuse of power, corruption, and retaliatory

culture when it:

a. Released his protected personnel information to the media;

b. Banned his access to the 15th floor of the government center, thereby limiting his

access to a public forum;

c. Denied Puckett access to public records and documents that are a part of his

personnel file pursuant to state statute;

d. Required him to use personal vacation time to testify at the trial of Esclzert v. City

of Charlotte although it paid other City employees for their time testifying;

e. Changed requirements for instructors so that Puckett could no longer serve as an

instructor at the Fire Academy;

f. Banned Puckett from serving as a volunteer for Council Member Fallon;

g. Allowed Fire Chief Jon Hannan ("Chief Hannan") and others in leadership to refuse

to meet with the CFFA while Puckett was an officer;

h. Chief Hannan, Legal, and HR disparaged Puckett to members of City Council and

others and discouraged them from communicating with him; and,

1. Otherwise harassed, intimidated, and threatened Puckett with disciplinary action,

termination, and even physical harm, and sanctioned and encouraged Puckett's

coworkers and command staff to do the same.

5
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 54 of 109
Crystal Eschert

18. The facts surrounding Crystal Eschert's termination and lawsuit against the City

are essential to and necessarily intertwined with Puckett's claims against the City, as the City

retaliated against Puckett for supporting Eschert.

19. Upon information and belief, in late August 2014, the CFD management

orchestrated circumstances to terminate Crystal Eschert, a fire investigator, who had been

complaining to Council Member Fallon, her father-in-law, and others about misuse of CFD funds

and health and safety issues related to the new offices for fire investigators located at the 1517

North Graham Street building ("Arson Task Force Building").

20. Crystal Eschert contacted her father-in-law, Ray Eschert, a well-connected

businessman, for advice. Ray Eschert then contacted Council Member Fallon to see if she knew

what was going on. Ray Eschert shared that he was concerned the City was retaliating against

Crystal Eschert for her previous complaints to Council Member Fallon about the Arson Task Force

Building.

21. Council Member Fallon contacted Puckett to see if he knew what was going on.

22. Crystal Eschert had separately reached out to Puckett to serve as her employee

advocate and witness throughout the termination process.

23. On or about September 16, 2014, CFD management received a public records

request from Puckett on behalf of the CFFA for a number of emails and text messages by, between,

or among CFD employees and others, as they related to Crystal Eschert.

24. Upon information and belief, also on September 16, 2014, a meeting was held with

senior CFD and City management, including Chief Hannan, Deputy Chief Howard "Pete" Key

("Deputy Chief Key"), CFD HR Director Kristi Kjeldsen, then-Deputy Police Chief Kerr Putney,

Deputy City Attorney Hope Root, former City HR Director Cheryl Brown, then-Deputy Human

6
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 55 of 109
Resources Director Sheila Simpson (now the City's HR Director), and Assistant City Manager Ann

Wall, to discuss, among other things, the public information request signed by Puckett.

25. Upon information and belief, on September 18, 2014, Fire Department

management received a public records request from Steve Harrison on behalf of the Charlotte

Observer. Upon information and belief, the City believes that Puckett asked Steve Harrison to

send the request in order to force the City to respond.

26. Crystal Eschert was later terminated after a hearing on September 25, 2014. Puckett

attended the hearing and served as a witness on behalf of Crystal Eschert.

27. The CFFA assisted Eschert with the grievance Eschert filed regarding her

termination, which was also denied.

28. Eschert went on to a file a Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act ("REDA")

retaliation complaint with the North Carolina Department of Labor and a lawsuit against the City.

29. The CFFA and Puckett continued to support Crystal Eschert after her termination.

Puckett spoke with Deputy Chief Key and then-City HR Deputy Director Sheila Simpson (now

City HR Director) about the termination and how it affected the department, Crystal Eschert's next

steps, and the City's position on her termination.

30. The CFFA and Puckett also supported Crystal Eschert by sending public records

requests for documents.

31. Puckett testified on Crystal Eschert' s behalf during a Civil Service Board Hearing

held on March 4, 2015.

32. Puckett testified that he gave advice to Crystal Eschert regarding her termination

and told her to follow the grievance process as laid out by the CFD. Puckett also testified that he,

and other members of the CFFA, did research on the Civil Service Act and interviewed older

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


7 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 56 of 109
generations of firefighters to learn what they knew about how the Civil Service Act evolved over

time and how it applied to fire investigators.

33. When asked by opposing counsel, "You were working hard on Ms. Eschert's

behalf?" Puckett replied, "I would say we were working hard on Ms. Eschert's behalf."

34. Puckett gave his testimony in front of the Charlotte Civil Service Board as well as

City and CFD HR, and CFD management, including Chief Hannan and Deputy Chief Richard

Granger ("Deputy Chief Granger").

35. Chief Hannan previously told Puckett by phone in or about 2014, "We're [Chief

Hannan and his supporters] going to put Ashley Hewitt and Norman Garnes on the Civil Service

Board." Upon information and belief, both of those individuals were supportive of Chief Hannan.

Ashley Hewitt and Norman Garnes were on the Civil Service Board and heard Crystal Eschert' s

appeal to the Civil Service Board.

36. On or about August 31, 2015, Puckett sent an extensive request for public

documents, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat § 132.1, related to the Civil Service Board, the City

Manager's Office, the CFD, CFD suspensions and terminations, City Council personnel rules and

regulations, and the work of the City's outside counsel, among other requests.

37. By supporting Crystal Eschert, Puckett butted heads with Chief Hannan and his

supporters, including Deputy Chief Granger and members of Legal and City Council, who saw

Puckett as a threat to Chief Hannan' s power and control.

Puckett and Council Member Claire Fallon

38. Puckett first met Councilwoman Claire Fallon ("Fallon") in or about 2011 in his

role as Political Action Director for the CFFA. In that capacity, he vetted her candidacy for City

Council to decide whether the CFF A would endorse her.

8
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 57 of 109
39. Fallon had a family history of involvement in and support of fire departments and

was thus interested in supporting the CFD and advocating for firefighter rights.

40. Fallon was first elected to City Council in 2011 and served as a council member

until her term ended after she lost her bid for reelection in September 2017.

41. Fallon served as the Chair of the Community Safety Committee from 2013 to 2014.

In that capacity she interacted with citizens related to the Fire Department and the Police

Department.

42. In January 2014, the administrative assistant to City Council reached out to CFFA

leadership, including Puckett, to set up a meeting between them and Council Member Fallon at

Council Member Fallon's request. As Chair of the Community Safety Committee, she wanted to

reach out to the City's civil servants to learn more about what they did and how she could better

help them serve the community.

43. Puckett found an ally in the fight for firefighter rights, including the rights of

Crystal Eschert, in Council Member Fallon. Council Member Fallon realized that Crystal

Eschert's termination was retaliatory and took issue with the direction of Chief Hannan's

leadership.

44. After the November 3, 2015 election, Council Member Fallon's intern abruptly

quit, Puckett asked her if she needed help and she said yes. She counted on him to accurately and

honestly answer her questions about what he knew and could find out about City business. She

was curious to learn more about how the City departments worked so that she could better do her

job as a City Council Member and she leaned on Puckett to learn about the CFD.

45. Puckett and Council Member Fallon spoke about:

a. Falsification of CFD vacation/holiday pay used to inflate pensions;

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


9 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 58 of 109
b. Reduction of CFD sick and vacation hours, which lowered pensions and retirement

payouts;

c. Chief Hannan's inflation of minimum staffing needs for firefighters to put fire

companies in service in order to garner additional funded positions from City

Council, then trading the allocated funds and position numbers through the Budget

Office for administrative staff positions (not firefighters), which results in fewer

paid firefighter positions and more required overtime;

d. Unfunded liabilities in the Charlotte Firefighter Retirement System through various

forms of pension spiking and manipulation by CFO management;

e. Failure of the CFO to run a validated promotional process and the City and CFD's

refusal to follow all City Council approved Ordinances and Resolutions, including

the City and CFD's intentional disregard for City Council Resolutions and Civil

Service guidelines enacted to ensure all firefighters, particularly minorities,

participate in an equitable promotional process based on merit, and the City's

failure to run a validated, fair, and objective promotional process, all of which has

resulted in a decrease in minority promotions;

f. City and CFO staff separating spending into multiple transactions in order to avoid

required City Council approval over a certain threshold;

g. Revenue diversion at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport ("Airport"), when

the City improperly used funds and resources allocated for the Airport for other

City purposes;

h. City staff instituting personnel rules and policies and changes to the rules and

policies without the required approval of City Council;

10 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 59 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
1. CFD failing to include all eligible employees, including retirees and civilian

employees, for inclusion on the North Carolina State Firemen's Association's

Relief Fund Roster "(Roster"), and then applying for relief for individuals who were

not on the Roster, thereby avoiding the Roster fees and improperly collecting and

disbursing funds;

J. City Council and City Staff have told prospective Civil Service Board members

that they want people on the Civil Service Board who will support the decisions of

the Police and Fire Chiefs;

k. In or about January 2016, Puckett told Council Member Fallon that if City Council

had to sign Grant Assurances for the CFD, they needed to be sure that the CFD met

the conditions of the funding and spent the money appropriately by following the

rules applicable to each grant. Council Member Fallon raised this issue during a

City Council dinner meeting. Upon information and belief, $50,000 of restricted

grant monies were used by the CFD at the direction of Deputy Chief Granger to

pay for boat motors although that purchase was not permitted by the grant. Upon

information and belief, Deputy Chief Kevin Gordon took over the Administrative

Deputy Chief position after this was brought to light; and,

I. CFD attaining international accreditation and ISO class rating of 1 under false

pretenses, including false representations and data.

46. Puckett began assisting Council Member Fallon with City Council activities,

helping her with research on the computer, attending meetings with her, and carrying boxes for

her since she was a little unsteady on her feet, could not lift and carry boxes of paperwork, and

11 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 60 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
needed help with the computer. Council Member Fallon was approximately 80 years old at this

time.

47. Puckett volunteered his time to assist Council Member Fallon without pay when he

was off duty; he was never accused of completing activities as an intern or volunteer while also

being on duty or in uniform.

48. Puckett engaged in political activities to support good government in a manner that

was appropriate for any citizen or public employee. Council Member Fallon did not direct

Puckett's conduct or activities within his capacity as a firefighter.

49. Puckett's role as a volunteer is wholly consistent with the types of activities

contemplated by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-169(a), which states:

The purpose of this section is to ensure that city employees are not subjected
to political or partisan coercion while performing their job duties, to ensure
that employees are not restricted from political activities while off duty, and
to ensure that public funds are not used for political or partisan activities. It
is not the purpose of this section to allow infringement upon the rights of
employees to engage in free speech and free association.

Every city employee has a civic responsibility to support good government


by every available means and in every appropriate manner. Employees shall
not be restricted from affiliating with civic organizations of a partisan or
political nature, nor shall employees, while off duty, be restricted from
attending political meetings, or advocating and supporting the principles or
policies of ci vie or political organizations, or supporting partisan or
nonpartisan candidates of their choice in accordance with the Constitution
and laws of the State and the Constitution and laws of the United States of
America.

(Emphasis added)

50. This statement is consistent with federal law. Puckett's activities as a

firefighter for the City did not include: 1). Membership in the CFFA, 2). Leadership activities for

the CFFA, 3). Employee advocacy for members of the CFFA, 4). Membership in the NAACP, 5).

The CFFA, 6). Membership in HOPE, 7). Advocacy for HOPE, 8). Membership in PFFPNC, 9).

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


12 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 61 of 109
Advocacy for and leadership in PFFPNC, 10). Work with Charlotte Firefighters Charities, 11).

Service on and advocacy for the city's Board and Commission on Community Relations, 12).

Political activities and vetting and support of political candidates for the CFFA and the NAACP,

13). Service as an unpaid intern to Council Woman Fallon while he was off duty, 14). Writing and

lobby for legislative in North Carolina, 15). Efforts to educate others about the rights of employees

and citizens, and the responsibilities of the government.

51. Retaliation against Puckett individually and against the CFFA while he was an

executive and as against the CFFA while he was an executive officer surfaced after Puckett

advocated for Crystal Eschert and after he raised questions and concerns directly and Council

Member Fallon shared concerns about firefighters and public safety, financial mismanagement,

and concerns about improper use of restricted grant monies and misrepresentations to the federal

government.

Retaliation Against Puckett

Instructor Position

52. Puckett worked as an instructor at the CFD Fire Training Academy for years and

received approximately $2,600 for each course he taught or assisted in teaching as a result.

53. Upon information and belief, in about late 2014 or early 2015, Chief Hannan and

those acting in concert with him, removed Puckett as an adjunct instructor for a course on urban

search and rescue at the Fire Training Academy by requiring all teachers to have a teaching

certificate, resulting in a loss of income to Puckett. Upon information and belief, Puckett is the

only mixed-heritage or black instructor who has taught this course.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


13 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 62 of 109
54. The City had previously asked Puckett to assist in teaching this course, but then

changed its policies in order to retaliate against Puckett. Upon information and belief, the City

intended to humiliate Puckett and cause him loss of revenue.

Access to Government/Limitation on Political Activities

55. Before agreeing to volunteer for Council Member Fallon, Puckett asked the legal

counsel of the PFFPNC whether there were any legal prohibitions on him doing so. Legal counsel

said there were no prohibitions.

56. Prior to volunteering for Council Member Fallon, on or about November 24, 2015,

Puckett told former City Manager Carlee that he was going to assist her on an unpaid volunteer

basis.

57. City Manager Carlee told Puckett it was not a good idea for him volunteer or intern

for Council Member Fallon. Puckett pushed back and asked if it was a violation of policy or law

or if he just didn't like it. Puckett believed that City Manager Carlee and others in leadership did

not like it when Council Woman Fallon pushed back or asked difficult questions in public forums

or when she took them to task through the media. City Manager Carlee did not identify any

violations of law or policy.

58. Puckett asked for City Manager Carlee's directive to be put in writing as a

safeguard to both of them and City Manager Carlee agreed to do so. Puckett also told City

Manager Carlee that he would continue to exercise his right to engage in political activity until he

received something in writing from City Manager Carlee or until Council Member Fallon said he

could no longer serve her in that capacity.

59. City Manager Carlee was aware that Puckett continued to assist Council Member

Fallon because City Manager Carlee saw Puckett and Council Member Fallon together at

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


14 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 63 of 109
meetings. Indeed, Puckett and City Manager Carlee spoke with each other about City business at

some of these meetings. Puckett sometimes attended meetings for Council Member Fallon at her

request when she was unable to attend.

60. In order to separate Council Member Fallon and Puckett, City Manager Carlee

sought a legal opinion from then-City Attorney Robert Hagemann ("City Attorney Hagemann"),

which erroneously argued that it was a conflict of interest for an employee of the City, such as

Puckett, to work for or assist Council Member Fallon, even outside of his CFD duties, as an unpaid

intern.

61. City Attorney Hagemann' s opinion on the matter is dated December 8, 2015 (the

"Opinion") and states that Puckett's work for Council Member Fallon was "unlawful," and sought

to limit Puckett's ability to engage in political activity based on Section 4.03 of the City Charter.

The Opinion was not provided to Puckett at the time it was issued.

62. Upon information and belief, the Opinion was not provided to Puckett when issued

because the reasoning is flawed and the conclusion is inaccurate.

63. The reasoning in the Opinion is flawed because: (1) the City ordinance, cited in the

Opinion, does not support the conclusion that Puckett's work for a council member was a violation;

and (2) the "doctrine of incompatibility," cited in the Opinion, does not apply here.

64. Further, to the extent Section 4.03 of the City Charter, which City Attorney

Hagemann relied on in his Opinion, conflicts with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-169(a), the statute

supersedes the City Charter. N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 160A-169(f) states:

To the extent that this section conflicts with the provisions of any local act,
city charter, local ordinance, resolution, or policy, this section prevails to
the extent of the conflict.

15 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 64 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
65. The doctrine of incompatibility was used to prevent an individual from holding two

positions when both positions qualify as public offices. The common law doctrine is superseded

by Article VI, Section 9 of the N.C. Constitution and N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 128-1.1. In addition, public

officers are routinely distinguished from public employees as public officers exercise some level

of sovereign authority. Work as a volunteer for a member of city council does not include the

exercise of sovereign authority, nor does it include work as a firefighter.

66. Since Puckett had not received anything in writing from the City or City Manager

Carlee prohibiting him from assisting Council Member Fallon, Puckett continued to do so. On

March 3, 2016, Council Member Fallon asked Puckett to help her email civic leaders, including

members of City Council, the Mayor, the City Attorney, and City Manager, as well as two

Charlotte Observer reporters, a letter she had authorized and which had been typed by Fallon's

assigned administrative assistant. The letter complained about the City's handling of the Esche rt

matter and called for the termination of Chief Hannan.

67. Upon information and belief, Council Member Fallon was concerned about

retaliation and did not want the City Council administrative assistant who typed the letter to also

distribute it by email made available to Fallon by the City.

68. Upon information and belief, the content of the letter had been determined

exclusively by Council Member Fallon and was dictated to an administrative assistant of City

Council.

Leaked Memo

69. The next day, March 4, 2016, City Manager Carlee issued a Confidential Personnel

Action Memo (the "Memo") to Puckett which excoriated him for helping Council Member Fallon

email the letter. City Manager Carlee directed Puckett to cease serving as an aide to council

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


16 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 65 of 109
members, accompanying them to meetings, communicating on their behalf, and working in their

offices.

70. Upon information and belief, what City Manager Carlee and others in City

management actually objected to was the content of the Fallon's letter, not how it was delivered.

71. Upon information and belief, City Manager Carlee, Chief Hannan, and other City

management officials involved blamed Puckett for the content of Fallon's March 3, 2016 letter,

although the content was determined solely by Fallon, who is a decisive and independent thinker

who was unafraid of retaliation from Chief Hannan.

72. This was the first written directive from City Manager Carlee to Puckett, but it did

not include any legal basis for the directive.

73. The Memo was copied to Chief Hannan and instructed Chief Hannan to ensure that

Puckett followed this directive, and it stated that Puckett's failure to follow this directive may

result in "disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal."

74. After Chief Hannan received a copy of the Memo on March 4, 2016, he

deliberately, illegally, and to retaliate against Puckett, released it to the media although he knew it

contained Puckett's protected personnel information.

75. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan was well-aware that the personnel

records of City employees are protected pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-168 and that the

release of such information is a direct violation of the statute. The Memo is also conspicuously

marked "Confidential."

76. In addition to North Carolina laws regarding the release of employee personnel

files, CFD General Order 207.01 ("GO 207.01") also clearly prohibits the release of personnel

information, such as the Memo, unless there is a Court Order, employee authorization, or other

17 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 66 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
special circumstances contemplated by GO 207.01. CFD GO 207.01 was endorsed and approved

by Chief Hannan who expected all employees of the CFD to follow the policy.

77. Chief Hannan leaked the Memo after Puckett forwarded Council Member Fallon's

March 3, 2016 letter which called for Chief Hannan' s termination, which is obvious retaliation for

Puckett's association with Council Member Fallon who was speaking out against Chief Hannan

based, in part, on her belief that Puckett's answers to her questions and information he shared with

her (all protected speech), justified her actions.

78. The City has taken the disingenuous position that Chief Hannan mistakenly

believed the Memo had previously been made public prior to its release by Chief Hannan through

the actions of others. However, upon information and belief, he knew or should have known that

no one else had released Puckett's personnel information. The timing of the Personnel Action,

and its subsequent public release, was motivated by Chief Hannan's willful and malicious desire

to retaliate against Puckett.

79. Upon information and belief, only Puckett, City Manager Carlee, City Attorney

Hagemann, and Chief Hannan had access to the Memo.

80. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan knew that Puckett, City Manager

Carlee and City Attorney Hagemann had not shared the Memo with the public.

81. On or about March 9, 2016, WBTV-TV posted a story, which published the Memo

which had been leaked by Chief Hannan.

82. The story was distressing to Puckett and his family who were concerned that Chief

Hannan was trying to lay the groundwork to fire Puckett.

83. The next day, March 10, 2016, Chief Hannan held a meeting where it was decided

that Puckett could not access the 15th floor of the City Government Center without his prior

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


18 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 67 of 109
approval and this prohibition was added to the list of prohibitions previously set forth by City

Manager Carlee.

84. Puckett spoke with then-Council Member John Autry about the leak of his

protected personnel information and, on March 14, 2016, Autry brought a motion to City Council

to have City Attorney Hagemann investigate the source of the leak. Upon information and belief,

City Attorney Hagemann, who was also present at the meeting, discouraged City Council from

investigating the source of the leak, stating that he did not have the capacity or ability to subpoena

documents or put anyone under oath to fully investigate the matter, even though City Attorney

Hagemann knew or should have known that City Council has the authority to subpoena witnesses

and documents and administer oaths per N.C. Gen Stat§ l 60A-80.

85. Upon information and belief, as a result of this erroneous information, Autry

withdrew his motion and the investigation was tabled for another meeting after City Attorney

Hagemann could get more information to City Council on the scope of any potential investigation

and what an investigation into the personnel leak would look like.

86. After City Council failed to act, Puckett sent a letter to City Council by email stating

that he would personally pay for lie detector testing for the people with known access to the Memo

in order to find determine source of the leak. No one with access to the Memo (City Manager

Carlee, Chief Hannan, and City Attorney Hagemann) took Puckett up on his offer. Indeed, no one

from City Council responded to his email except for one City Council Member who told Puckett

to remove his City email from Puckett's email distribution list.

87. Puckett received a second memo on March 15, 2016 from Deputy Chief Pete Key

which banned him from visiting "the 15th floor without the approval upward through your chain

of command including the Fire Chief."

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


19 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 68 of 109
88. The 15th floor of the Government Center houses the offices of the City Manager,

City Attorney, Assistant City Managers, and all City Council Member. Accordingly, being banned

impeded Puckett's participation in the political process in direct violation of his constitutional

rights to free speech, freedom of association, and political activity.

89. The City has admitted in public documents that Puckett was the Vice President of

the CFFA at the time of this reprimand and that it banned Puckett from the 15th floor of the

Charlotte City Government Center.

Defendant admits that Marty Puckett ("Puckett") is Vice President of the


Charlotte Firefighters Association and that Carlee told Puckett that he could
not be a volunteer intern for Fallon and that Carlee reprimanded Puckett for
serving in that capacity. Defendant further admits that Carlee banned
Puckett from the 15th floor of the Charlotte City Government Center.

[Eschert, No. 3:16-cv-00295, Doc. 33].

90. Upon information and belief, the City knew that Puckett also used his access to the

15th floor to lobby civic leaders to address issues including but not limited, on behalf of the CFFA

for important firefighter health and safety issues such as increased health insurance and retirement

benefits, National Fire Protection Association-required ("NFPA") physicals for all firefighters,

legislation protecting firefighters from presumptive causes of cancer, benefits for firefighter

injuries and death, and maintaining the minimum staffing numbers for all fire apparatuses, such as

fire trucks.

91. The City's ban of Puckett from accessing the 15th floor of the Charlotte Government

Center continues to this day.

92. Chief Hannan lied about the leak of the Memo multiple times until he was caught

lying, and he was later was forced to admit via a letter to Puckett dated April 5, 2016 that he (Chief

Hannan) leaked the Memo to the media.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


20 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 69 of 109
93. Mr. Carlee later testified in deposition that Chief Hannan initially lied about leaking

the memo:

Q. Did you have discussions with Chief Hannan about whether or not
he had leaked the memo?
A. I did.
Q. What did he tell you?
A. Told me that he had not.
Q. How many times did he deny it?
A. I don't know that he denied it more than once.
Q. Was his denial accurate?
A. It was not.
Q. How did you find out his denial was not accurate?
A. He retracted it and admitted that he had done it.
Q. When did he do that?
A. I confronted him directly on it on probably a Monday or a Tuesday,
and by the end of the week he admitted that he had, in fact, done it.
.. .I asked him straight up, directly, did - were you the one who did it,
because there was very limited access to that memo.

[Eschert, No. 3: 16-cv-00295, Depo. Ronnie C. Carlee, 95:4-95:21; 96: 15-96: 16].

94. A closed session meeting of City Council was held on or about Monday, March 28,

2016 to discuss Chief Hannan's leak of Puckett's protected personnel information.

95. After City Council's closed session meeting, Chief Hannan was asked by a local

television reporter about whether he had in fact leaked the Memo, his immediate response was

"No."

96. Chief Hannan admitted that he was the source of the leak to City Manager Carlee

prior to this hearing, so his denial was another lie to the public. Indeed, the City admitted in public

documents that at the time Chief Hannan responded to the reporter's question, he had already

disclosed to City Manager Carlee his error in providing a copy of the Memo to the media.

97. Despite the fact that the City knew that Chief Hannan was responsible for the leak,

it continued to support Chief Hannan and deny the leak publicly.

21 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 70 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
98. On Friday, April 1, 2016, a CFD Spokesperson disingenuously stated that Chief

Hannan did not tell the news reporter that he was not the source of the leaked Memo during the

news clip, but rather that he was telling the television reporter that he didn't have any information

about the investigation that he could share at that time. The City's attempt to spin the story is also

contradicted by the media recording.

99. By Tuesday, April 5, 2016, Chief Hannan admitted to Puckett and the public that

he wrongfully released Puckett's protected personnel information to the media. Deputy Chief Key

called Puckett and told him to come uptown to meet with Chief Hannan in person although Puckett

was on sick leave at the time. When Puckett got to CFD Headquarters, Chief Hannan read him a

written apology and threw it at him. The City sent out a press release that same day, belatedly

acknowledging Chief Hannan's release of Puckett's protected information.

100. Chief Hannan's letter to Puckett, although apologizing for releasing the Personnel

Action, maintained that Chief Hannan thought the Memo was already made public and did not

think that the Memo reflected negatively on Puckett's performance as a Charlotte firefighter.

101. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan would not have released the Memo to

the media had he not believed doing so would harm Puckett.

102. The decision to issue the Memo and the unconstitutional restrictions placed on

Puckett were directed and motivated by Chief Hannan's willful and malicious desire to restrict and

silence Puckett, which was supported by Legal and HR.

103. N.C. Gen Stat. 160A-168(e) provides that:

A public official or employee who knowingly, willfully, and with malice permits
any person to have access to information contained in a personnel file, except as is
permitted by this section, is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and upon conviction
shall only be fined an amount not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00).

22 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 71 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
104. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan was placed on a mere three-month

probation and had a reprimand placed in his personnel file by City Manager Carlee.

105. The Fire Chief should have been held to a higher standard than others in the

department, not a lower standard.

Denied Grievances

106. On or about March 25, 2016, Puckett submitted two grievances to former City HR

Director Cheryl Brown regarding his ban from political activity on the 15th floor and the improper

release of his protected personnel information. Pursuant to City policy HR11, in effect at the time,

grievable items include "Acts of harassment or reprisal (retaliation)."

107. With his grievances, Puckett requested documents considered to be either public

records under N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 132-1 or a part of Puckett's personnel file under N.C. Gen. Stat.§

160A-168, but his request for records was denied by HR.

108. Puckett then submitted his request in the form of a formal public records request

and provided former City HR Director Brown with a brochure from the North Carolina Attorney

General about public records laws. The brochure made it clear that Puckett was entitled to the

requested information and documentation pursuant to North Carolina law.

109. Although the Memo banned Puckett from engaging in political activity and was

then released to the media in clear retaliation for Puckett's historical speech, his association with

Council Member Fallon, and Fallon's opposition to Chief Hannan, City HR declared that the issues

in Puckett's grievance were not grievable through the City.

110. Former City HR Director Brown wrote to Puckett:

Per HR 11, the Human Resources Key Business Executive [Brown] is authorized
to determine whether an item is grievable.

23 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 72 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
The City Manager's Office supports my authority to determine whether an item is
grievable and it supports my decision that your request to file a grievance
concerning the directive from City Manager Ron Carlee and concerning the leaking
of your personnel record to the news media are not grievable.

I believe I have answered all of your questions. This is the last communication you
will receive from me regarding these two items.
111. When Puckett asked to appeal this decision, the City HR Director told him that she

had the final authority to decide whether or not his complaint was grievable and the matter was

not appealable to the City Manager's Office.

112. The City HR Director also told Puckett in writing that the City Manager supported

City HR's decision to determine that Puckett's complaint was not grievable.

113. HR 11, in effect at the time, provides that employee shall be free to use the grievance

procedure without fear of interference, coercion, discrimination, or reprisal on the part of management

at any level, or other employees. However, the City's refusal to hear Puckett's grievances, denial of

his clearly established right to file grievances, and the City's determination that Puckett's

complaints were not grievable or appealable was retaliatory, unreasonable, and interfered with and

deprived Puckett of his state and federal constitutional rights to procedural and substantive due

process, deprived him of liberty and property interests, deprived him of the enjoyment of the fruits

of his labor, and deprived him of equal protection.

114. On or about March 30, 2016, Puckett submitted a public records request for phone

records, text messages, and other electronic communications and documents related to Chief

Hannan's leak in order to support his grievance, but the request was purposefully held up. When

Puckett got the response to his public records request, the City failed to provide him with the

relevant date range Puckett needed in order to support his grievance. Upon information and belief,

the exclusion was intentional and in violation of public records laws. Upon information and belief,

24 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 73 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
Leg and the City Manager's Office were involved in the wrongful exclusion of relevant documents

from Puckett's public information request.

115. On March 6, 2017, Puckett submitted a second public records request and sent it

directly to City IT for voice calls and text logs for Chief Hannan for dates ranges related to the

leak of Puckett's protected personnel information, but Puckett never received any response from

City IT.

Crystal Eschert Summary Judgment and Trial

116. On March 8, 2017, Puckett signed an Affidavit which supported Crystal Eschert's

Motion in Opposition to the City's Motion for Summary Judgment (3: 16-cv-295, Doc.# 48-6). In

it, he called into question the credibility of Chief Hannan and Deputy Chief Granger for their

involvement in the termination of Crystal Eschert, stated he believed that both were willing to

resort to dishonesty to retaliate, and also stated that he believed that Chief Hannan and Deputy

Chief Granger disparaged him and that Chief Hannan leaked the Memo in retaliation for his

support of Crystal Eschert.

117. After the City's Motion for Summary Judgment was denied on April 7, 2017, Chief

Hannan told Tom Brewer, President of the CFFA, that he would no longer meet with the CFFA as

long as Puckett was an officer of the CFF A.

118. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan held Puckett personally responsible for

Crystal Eschert's pursuit of her legal claims against the CFD and thought that he was a driving

force behind the lawsuit.

119. Before the Crystal Eschert case went to trial, Puckett was warned by Deputy Chief

Key that Chief Hannan told Deputy Chief Key, "I will get him back for this," referring to Puckett's

continued support of Crystal Eschert. Puckett took this to mean that Chief Hannan wanted to find

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


25 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 74 of 109
a reason to get him disciplined or fired or thought that it was maybe even a threat of physical

violence. Deputy Chief Key told Puckett, "Watch yourself. They are after you."

120. In April 2017, Puckett and approximately 70 other current City employees were

subpoenaed to testify at the federal trial of Esche rt v. City of Charlotte.

121. Deputy City Attorney Hope Root sent an email notifying all City employees who

were subpoenaed that the City had accepted service of the Subpoenas on behalf of all City

employees, that the subpoenas were "considered a Court Order, and unless you are excused for

any reason, you must be available to testify at the trial if you are called."

122. Upon information and belief, the City employees who were called to testify were

allowed to take time off for their testimony and were paid by the City for that time without hassle.

However, Puckett's Battalion Chief was directed to request that Puckett submit additional

documentation showing what capacity Puckett testified and who he testified for (e.g., was he

appearing on behalf of the City or on behalf of Crystal Esche rt, as a private citizen, or in his official

capacity as a firefighter). Upon information and belief, this request was made at the direction of

Chief Hannan and Deputy Chief Granger. Ultimately, Puckett was forced to take personal vacation

time for complying with the subpoena.

123. Puckett testified in front of Deputy City Attorney Hope Root, and others, as to the

circumstances that surrounded Crystal Esche rt' s termination; his conversations with Council

Member Fallon about Crystal Eschert; that the CFO held Crystal Eschert to a different standard

when it came to her social media posts; that firefighters who had not raised concerns about

employee health and safety were not scrutinized for their social media posts; and that the CFFA

had requested that the CFD provide social media training for firefighters, but the CFO refused, and

the CFFA brought in an outside vendor to do the training for firefighters since the CFO failed and

26 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 75 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
refused to do so and the CFFA wanted to educate its membership and inadvertent violation of

social media policies.

Post-Crystal Eschert Trial

124. After testifying at trial, Puckett was harassed and subjected to unwarranted threats

of discipline.

125. In addition, Deputy City Attorney Hope Root, and others who supported Chief

Hannan, disparaged Puckett and the CFFA President to City Council and leadership within the

City

126. On June 16, 2017, Puckett sent an email to all fire department personnel to thank

everyone for their condolences after the death of his father. He also included a saying that his

father told him when he was younger, "Never underestimate the power of a minority of

intentionally misinformed people to get a majority of uninformed people to work against their own

self-interest."

127. One fire department employee who was associated with and supportive of Chief

Hannan replied all saying, "Please remove me from your correspondence list. Thank you! JT"

128. Upon information and belief, Puckett's coworker was trying to bait Puckett, at the

direction of Chief Hannan, into responding angrily.

129. The coworker's email response was callous and rude given the recent death of

Puckett's father and the intent of the email to express gratitude and thanks to the support of his

coworkers while he grieved.

130. After the email exchange, Deputy Chief Key told Puckett that Chief Hannan wanted

Deputy Chief Key to initiate an investigation of Puckett and his email and issue a write up to

Puckett. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan wanted to use this email to retaliate against

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


27 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 76 of 109
Puckett for his support of Crystal Eschert and his testimony at trial, among other things. Upon

information and belief, the other coworker who did not support Crystal Eschert was never

threatened with. disciplinary action.

131. Upon information and belief, Deputy Chief Key was able to hold up the write up

and any disciplinary action until after Chief Hannan's impending retirement, because he knew any

write up would be retaliatory and unfair.

132. Chief Hannan' s retirement was announced on June 29, 2017 and his retirement was

effective on or about August 31, 2017.

133. After his retirement was announced, but before the effective date, the Charlotte Fire

Department participated in an antique fire truck demonstration for the International Association of

Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Fire-Rescue International Conference Expo held in Charlotte from July 26-29,

2017. Deputy Chief Pete Key asked Puckett and the all-Black/ African American crew from

Station 36 to staff the Neptune Hand Pumper-an antique fire truck that requires the crew to hand

pump the water. Puckett was serving as the acting lead officer that day. Also attending the

demonstration was Chief Hannan, who was supervising the steamer truck, Old Sue, and other

firefighters from CFO as well as firefighters and fire chiefs from across the country, in addition to

the citizens of Charlotte. Chief Hannan came over to Puckett, and asked, "Who's in Charge

today?" When he realized it was Puckett, he said, "We don't need y'all. Y'all can go back to the

station."

134. Puckett followed Chief Hannan's orders and began gathering his crew to leave.

When another CFO employee stopped to ask questions Puckett's crew questions about the mobile

operations center ("MOC"), Chief Hannan began yelling at the employee saying, "Do not talk to

them. They have to get back to their station."

28 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 77 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
135. Upon information and belief, Chief Hannan told many people that Puckett got him

fired and did so to encourage others to retaliate against Puckett.

136. Other firefighters who supported Chief Hannan harassed and attempted to

intimidate Puckett with a threat of physical violence because they held him responsible for Chief

Hannan's early retirement.

137. Upon information and belief, during a speaking engagement at UNCC after his

retirement, Chief Hannan told listeners that there were two people in the CFD that he "would like

to see in the grave." Firefighters in attendance at the meeting brought this information to Puckett

because they assumed that one of those two individuals Chief Hannan was referring to was Puckett.

138. The threats to his job, the embarrassment of having his personnel info leaked and

published by the media at the request of a City Department head, and subsequent racial harassment

and intimidation have been extremely stressful to Puckett and his family.

CFF A Activity and Support of Firefighter Rights

139. Puckett has been outspoken about equitable treatment, fair and equal opportunities

for advancement and promotion within the CFD for all firefighters. This was a grave and persistent

concern under Chief Hannan since Chief Hannan and CFD management were known to manipulate

the promotional process in order to promote based on personal preference rather than merit.

140. CFD management and City officials have also been known to ignore Council

Resolutions, including Civil Service guidelines and procedures approved by City Council, in an

effort to promote based on personal preference rather than merit.

141. Puckett helped several CFD employees with the gnevance process and made

numerous public records requests about the promotional processes, which angered CFD

management.

29
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 78 of 109
142. Anonymous letters and cartoons have been sent to fire stations and the City

Manager's Office, claiming Puckett was racist or calling out Puckett's race (mixed heritage,

African American/Caucasian). In Puckett's role with the CPPA, he supported the rights of all

firefighters. Upon information and belief, Puckett's detractors, including upon information and

belief, Chief Hannan, said that Puckett only supported black firefighters. They did so in attempt

to pit him against other white firefighters.

143. In January 2017, the CPP A sent out a newsletter which included a video of Puckett

and the CPPA President talking about many issues that were important to firefighters, including

the need to address the refusal of Chief Hannan to promote two firefighters from the eligibility list

and a lawsuit filed against the City to obtain appropriate vacation payouts. Upon information and

belief, Chief Hannan was furious over the video and went to the City Attorneys' office to see if

there was any action he could take against Puckett and the CFPA for making the video available

to others.

144. Puckett has also actively spoken out in support of other employees who have been

retaliated against for exercising their free speech, including:

a. The first black female firefighter with the CPD, who has spoken to the media and

City Council about race, gender discrimination, and retaliation within the CPD;

b. A white male who was discriminated and retaliated against for continuing to

associate with the first black female firefighter after she became persona non grata

for speaking out publicly about race, gender discrimination and retaliation within

the CFD;

30 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 79 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
c. A white male who complained about violations of ethics and conflicts of interest

rules by CFD management and employees, including using City property to film a

watch commercial, then accepting free watches as gifts;

d. Fire Academy recruits of different races who were forced to resign without due

process in violation of the City, CFD, and state policies, regulations, and laws; and,

e. The first black female Captain with the CFD, who has been forced to file multiple

grievances, EEOC charges, and a lawsuit due to race and gender discrimination

within the CFO, and the CFD's failure to hold a validated, fair, non-discriminatory,

and non-manipulated promotional process.

COUNTI
(42 U.S.C. § 1983 -The City's First Amendment Retaliation of Puckett's Exercise of
Protected Speech; Political Speech, Activity, and Activism; and Union Activity or
Association with other Organizations)

140. The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated herein by

reference.

141. Puckett has the right, protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,

to speak as a citizen on matters of public interest, including political speech, activity, activism, and

has the right to engage in union activity on behalf of or associate with CFFA, particularly related

to abuse of power, dishonesty, discrimination, and retaliation by management of the CFD

condoned by the City, particularly since the CFD provides an important public service for the

health and safety of the citizens of the community, and to properly manage taxpayer dollars.

Protected Speech

142. Puckett has the further right under the First Amendment not to be punished or

retaliated against by his employer for speaking out as a citizen on matters of public interest and

concern, or for engaging in protected expressive activity.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


31 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 80 of 109
143. Puckett spoke out against abuse of power, dishonesty, discrimination, corruption,

and retaliation by management of the CFD condoned by City Management (including HR and the

City Attorney's Office), particularly since the CFD provides an important public service for the

safety and health of the citizens of the community.

144. Puckett was concerned about the CFD's/City's abuse of power and its termination

of Crystal Eschert as a means to retaliate and silence her complaints about health and safety. In

contrast, the City did not take comparable action against City and CFD officials who actually

violated federal law, North Carolina law, and City/CFD policies such as when Chief Hannan

leaked Puckett's protected personnel information.

145. Exposing governmental corruption, misconduct, financial mismanagement,

discrimination, illegal activities, and retaliation is a matter of considerable significance.

Political Speech, Activity, and Activism

146. At her request, Puckett began assisting Council Member Fallon with City Council

activities, helping her with research, meetings attendance, computer work, and carrying boxes for

her since she was a little unsteady on her feet and could not lift and carry heavy boxes.

147. Not only was Puckett volunteering for Council Member Fallon, he was also actively

involved in the local chapter of the NAACP, as well as other advocacy organizations such as

HOPE, PFFPNC, and NC State AFL-CIO.

148. The City's restrictions on Puckett's access to city officials was retaliatory and an

impermissible effort to suppress his political speech and association, and activism.

149. Puckett's political speech is absolutely protected under the First Amendment

because he was engaging in the political process, advocating for individuals, groups, legal issues,

legislation, policies, and various political issues, including firefighter rights, equal opportunity for

32 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 81 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
advancement, greater opportunities for minorities, and associating himself with political entities

and leaders during his off-duty time.

150. North Carolina Statutes encourage public employees to engage in the political

process and maintain political associations by granting public employees protection from duress

or coercion related to their employment with a public entity.

151. The statutes recognize that public employees, based upon their position within

government gain an important perspective and understanding of the government that will benefit

the general public if it is not restricted or limited. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-169(a) specifically

states:

Employees shall not be restricted from affiliating with c1v1c


organizations of a partisan or political nature, nor shall employees,
while off duty, be restricted from attending political meetings, or
advocating and supporting the principles or policies of civic or
political organizations, or supporting partisan or nonpartisan
candidates of their choice in accordance with the Constitution and
laws of the State and the Constitution and laws of the United States
of America.

152. The City's attempts to categorize Puckett's volunteering for Council Member

Fallon as a violation of City ordinance was retaliatory and an impermissible effort to suppress his

political speech and activity and other speech and activity protected by state and federal law.

Union Activity or Association with CFF A

153. Puckett, as a member of the CFFA, engaged in the protected activity of

communicating with City government officials on behalf of all CFD firefighters. Through the

CFFA, Puckett was involved in education and advocacy at the local, state, and national levels. In

2012, he served as treasurer of CFF A, and in 2016, served as Vice President.

154. CFFA, through the efforts of Puckett, provided assistance to Eschert before and

during her trial. Puckett's affiliation with CFFA was well known by CFD and the City.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


33 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 82 of 109
155. As a leader within CFFA, Puckett engaged in activities that connected him with

City and other government officials.

156. Puckett's membership in and leadership activities with the CFFA were not part of

Puckett's duties as a firefighter. Indeed, Charlotte firefighters are not required to be members of

the CFFA.

157. The City maintains a widespread custom or practice of retaliating against those who

advocate on behalf of the CFFA or its members to challenge CFD leadership or the City Manager

and those reporting to him.

158. The City's widespread custom or practice of discriminating and retaliating against

those who associate with the CFFA is pervasive, permanent, well-settled and constitutes a

discriminatory and retaliatory custom or usage with force of law.

159. The City has admitted some of the acts constituting harassment and retaliation

against Puckett, such as the leaking of protected personnel information that was the subject of

intense media scrutiny.

160. The City's reliance on a purported "misunderstanding" by the Fire Chief as a basis

for retaliating against and disciplining Puckett by removing his access to City government

officials, including the City Council, the Mayor, and City Manager's offices, is disingenuous and

seeks to disenfranchise Puckett of his right to engage in political activity.

161. The City provided open access to the public to City government officials, including

the City Council, the Mayor, and the City Manager's offices; allowing any member of the public

to come and provide their opinions and concerns to the government officials directly, but denied

these rights to Puckett.

162. Puckett engaged in various protected activities under the First Amendment as set

34 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 83 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
forth above, and including but not limited to:

a. His activities to support firefighter rights on behalf of the CFFA, including but not
limited to;

b. His support of Crystal Eschert in her action against the City, serving as an advocate for
her and witness at her termination hearing, and later as a witness at the Civil Service
Board hearing and federal court trial;

c. His complaints to City Council and others, including members of the media, about
concerns not limited to financial mismanagement, the misuse of grant monies,
manipulation of vacation/holiday pay, manipulation of the retirement system, revenue
diversion, misuse of the appropriated funds for staffing, unfunded liabilities in the
Charlotte Firefighters Retirement System, failure of the CFO to pay for all eligible
employees to be on the North Carolina State Firemen's Association Relief Fund Roster,
Grant Assurances, CFD attaining international accreditation and ISO class rating of l
under false pretenses, and similar issues;

d. His support of minorities for whom the City unfairly denied promotions by
manipulating the promotional process, advocating for equal rights and equal
opportunity for advancement of minorities, and advocating for fair and non-
discriminatory employment practices;

e. His political speech and political activism included vetting and supporting political
candidates for local, state, and federal offices;

f. His assistance to Council Member Fallon, sharing of information with other public
officials, and engaging in political activity and advocacy as set forth above and as
contemplated by N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 160A-169(a);

g. His active involvement in and leadership for the local chapter of the NAACP;

h. Lobbying for laws protecting minorities from police brutality at the state, federal, and
local levels, including discussing these matters with Chief Kerr Putney and discussing
concerns about Chief Hannan with Chief Putney;

i. Opposing CFD leadership's abuses of power, corruption, culture of fear and retaliation,
and CFD's silencing of anyone who can expose corruption; and

J. In other ways to be proven at trial.

163. The City retaliated against Puckett when it limited his First Amendment rights by

denying him access, chilling his protected speech, and treating him differently than his non-union

35
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 84 of 109
coworkers and coworkers who did not support Crystal Eschert or oppose the CFD' s abuses of

power, corruption, illegal and unethical activities, and retaliatory culture when it:

a. Released his protected personnel information to the media in violation of N.C. Gen.
Stat.§ 160A-168;

b. Banned his access to the 15th floor of the government center, thereby limiting his access
to a public forum available to private citizens;

c. Denied him access to public records and documents that are a part of his personnel file
pursuant to state statute;

d. Failed to comply with his public records requests;

e. Required him to use personal vacation time to testify at the trial of Eschert v. City of
Charlotte although it paid other City employees for their time testifying;

f. Changed requirements for instructors so that Puckett could no longer serve as an


instructor, causing him loss of income;

g. Banned Puckett from serving as an unpaid volunteer for Council Member Fallon;

h. Conditioned his public employment on a basis that infringes Puckett's constitutionally


protected interest in freedom of speech, expression, and association;

1. Limited his access and ability to effectively engage in speech and activities for the
CFFA or about matters of public concern while he was off duty and not acting as a
firefighter;

J. Deprived him of his right to file grievances and appeals;

k. Fire Chief Jon Hannan ("Chief Hannan") and others in leadership refused to meet
with the CFFA while Puckett was an officer;

1. Otherwise harassed, intimidated, and threatened Puckett with disciplinary action,


termination, and even physical harm, and ratified, sanctioned, encouraged, or was
deliberately indifferent to Puckett's coworkers and command staff doing the same; and

m. In other ways to be proven at trial.

164. Additionally, the City and City Council members tried to silence and retaliate

against Puckett and those associated with him in the following ways including but not limited to:

36 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 85 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
a. A City Council member called Linda Lockhart, a black female CFD employee who
complained to City Council about race and gender discrimination, unequal pay, and
retaliation, and asked her to stop speaking out at City Council meetings and publicly
including through the media;

b. City Council removed the public comments section of City Council meetings from the
public access television broadcasts;

c. The City denied access to CFD demonstrations at the Ballantyne Summer Barbecue
organized by Ray Eschert, after the Eschert trial;

d. The City denied Puckett the right to file grievances and appeals;

e. City Council refused funding provided in the past to Corine Mack's programs including
Uprising to Uplift Charlotte, which provides assistance to the community in the areas
of job skills, training on racism and implicit bias, overcoming barriers to housing, and
conflict resolution. Corine Mack was the President of the local NAACP chapter while
Puckett was Vice President, and Ms. Mack testified against the City at the Crystal
Eschert trial. A City Council Member warned Ms. Mack that anyone who testified for
Eschert at the Eschert trial would not receive opportunities and benefits controlled by
City Council; and

f. In other ways to be proven at trial.

165. Puckett's speech, political speech, political activity, union activity, and association

with CFFA, NAACP, and other organizations and nonprofits are absolutely protected under the

First Amendment.

166. Puckett's speech about protecting City employees from retaliation are about matters

of public concern because it exposed both actual and potential wrongdoing.

167. Puckett's speech about corrupt or illegal practices within the City or CFD involves

matters of public concern, involves political speech, and is protected under the First Amendment.

168. Puckett's political and union activities and his speech on matters of public concern

were done as a private citizen. . Puckett's work as a firefighter did not include political or

employee advocacy.

37 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 86 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
169. The City's/CFD's interest in maintaining discipline and ensuring harmony as

necessary to the operation of its mission of promoting public safety was not impaired by Puckett's

speech, association, or other protected activities as described above.

170. The legitimate interests of the CFD do not include abuse of power, dishonesty by

management, corrupt or illegal practices, coverups, racial discrimination, or retaliation against

employees who voice concerns about these issues.

171. Puckett's interest in expressing these concerns his association with the CFFA and

organizations outside of the City, and his political and community activism did not compete with

the CFD's interest in providing efficient and effective services to the public.

172. Rather, Puckett's speech is a critical component of holding the City government

accountable for the good of its employees and the community they serve.

173. It is important that employees of the CFD be free to speak out about matters of

public interest, public policy, and public concern and to engage in employee, citizen, and

community activism.

174. We live in a democracy where citizens are allowed to have differing opinions and

participate in matters of public debate without retaliation from the government.

175. Puckett's speech, political activity, union activity or association with CFFA at issue

in this action did not create any perceived risk to the CFD's interests, any such apprehension by

the City was unreasonable and was outweighed by Puckett's meritorious interest.

176. The CFD has harassed and retaliated against Puckett in retaliation for his political

speech and speech advocating for the rights of Crystal Eschert and opposing her wrongful

termination.

38
Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 87 of 109
177. The City has admitted some of the harassment and retaliation against Puckett,

including the leaking of protected personnel information that was the subject of intense media

scrutiny.

178. The City's stated reason for harassing, retaliating against, threatening, disparaging,

and disciplining Puckett by removing his access to City government officials, including the City

Council, the Mayor, and City Manager's offices, is disingenuous and seeks to disenfranchise

Puckett of his right to engage in political activity and free speech.

179. The actions of the CFD and the City, as described above, violated Puckett's rights.

The City retaliated against Puckett because he engaged in speech, political activity, union activity,

association within the NAACP and association with CFFA protected by the First Amendment, as

punishment for his exercise of his rights, and did so without any legitimate justification.

180. As a result of the violations of his First Amendment rights, Puckett has suffered

harassment, retaliation, defamation, and lost income.

18 l. Puckett has been punished and threatened for his protected speech and activities,

and his exercise of those rights have been improperly chilled.

182. As a result of the City's actions, Puckett is entitled to recover from the City damages

in excess of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at trial including

consequential, general, special, compensatory, declaratory and injunctive relief as set forth below

to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre-

and post-judgment interest; the costs of this action; and reasonable attorneys' fees pursuant to 42

U.S.C. § 1988.

COUNT II
(42 U.S.C. § 1983 -The City's Violations of Substantive Due Process, Procedural Due
Process, and Equal Protection Under the Fourteenth Amendment)

39 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 88 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
183. The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated herein by

reference.

184. The City and its officials acted under color of state and federal law and with reckless

or deliberate indifference to Puckett's constitutional rights and with malice by intentionally and

without justification releasing his confidential personnel memo to the media, and thus the public,

while the files of other similarly situated employees were not released, denying him access,

chilling his speech, treating him differently than his non-union coworkers and coworkers who did

not support Crystal Eschert or oppose the CFD's abuse of power and retaliatory culture, denying

him the right to grieve these issues, and when the City:

a. Released his protected personnel information to the media in violation of N.C. Gen.
Stat.§ 160A-168;

b. Banned his access to the 15th floor of the government center, thereby limiting his access
to a public forum;

c. Denied him access to public records and documents that are a part of his personnel file
pursuant to state statute;

d. Failed to comply with his public records requests;

e. Required him to use personal vacation time to testify at the trial of Eschert v. City of
Charlotte although it paid other City employees for their time testifying;

f. Changed requirements for instructors so that Puckett could no longer serve as an


instructor, causing him loss of income at the Fire Academy;

g. Banned Puckett from serving as a volunteer for Council Member Fallon;

h. Conditioned his public employment on a basis that infringes Puckett's constitutionally


protected interest in freedom of speech and expression;

i. Fire Chief Jon Hannan ("Chief Hannan") and others in leadership refused to meet
with the CFF A while Puckett was an officer;

J. Disparaged him to City officials;

40 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 89 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
k. Disparaged him to elected City officials;

1. Disparaged him publicly;

m. Utilized the City Attorney's Office and City HR to disparage him internally and
externally claiming he sent anonymous letters that he did not author;

n. Failed to protect him from retaliation and discrimination;

o. Deprived him of his right to file grievances and appeals;

p. Otherwise harassed, intimidated, and threatened Puckett with disciplinary action,


termination, and even physical harm, and sanctioned and encouraged Puckett's
coworkers and command staff to do the same; and

q. In other ways to be proven at trial.

185. Additionally, the City and City Council members retaliated and tried to silence

Puckett and those associated with him in many ways including but not limited to:

a. A City Council member called Linda Lockhart, a black female CFD employee who
complained to City Council about race and gender discrimination, unequal pay, and
retaliation, and asked her to stop speaking out at City Council meetings and to the
media;

b. City Council removed the public comments section of City Council meetings from the
public access television broadcasts;

c. The City denied access to CFD demonstrations at the Ballantyne Summer Barbecue
organized by Ray Eschert, for several years;

d. City Council refused funding provided in the past to Corine Mack's programs including
Uprising to Uplift Charlotte, which provides assistance to the community in the areas
of job skills, racism and implicit bias, overcoming barriers to housing, and conflict
resolution. Corine Mack was the President of the local NAACP chapter while Puckett
was Vice President, and Ms. Mack testified against the City at the Crystal Eschert trial;

e. A City Council Member has attempted to get a white UNCC student and local activist
on gun violence and other issues to disassociate with Corine Mack, who has been
advocating alongside him; and

f. In other ways to be proven at trial.

41 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 90 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
186. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that government shall not "deprive any

person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its

jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

187. The Fourteenth Amendment protects against arbitrary government action that is so

egregious that it "shocks the conscience" or offends a "sense of justice."

188. The City deprived Puckett of his constitutional rights to equal protection and due

process under the Fourteenth Amendment and retaliated against Puckett in violation of his First

Amendment rights.

189. The City knew, or in the exercise of its duties should have known, about Puckett's

constitutional rights and its violation of them.

190. There is compelling evidence of willful and intentional violations of substantive

and procedural due process and equal protection to allow or ratify retaliatory, arbitrary,

discriminatory, or irrational, and/or improperly motivated abuses of power, in violation of

Puckett's constitutional rights, by the City.

191. Puckett was not an at-will employee, and he had a protected property and liberty

interest in his employment and a fair grievance, hearing, and appeal process because his

employment was governed by the policies and procedures of the City. The City deprived Puckett

of his right to file grievances, his right to a hearing, and his right to file an appeal.

192. The City failed to follow the policies and procedures that governed Puckett's

employment, depriving Puckett of his protected property and liberty interests in a fair, non-

arbitrary, and non-capricious grievance, hearing, and appeal process.

193. The City's actions set forth above were intentional and arbitrary government

actions so egregious they shock the conscience and offend a sense of justice.

42 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 91 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
194. The City's actions were intended to injure Puckett, and did deprive him of liberty

and property interests, his privacy rights, and right to equal protection.

195. A violation of the confidentiality of personnel records under North Carolina statute

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-168 and refusal to hear Puckett's grievances violated his rights to

substantive due process, procedural due process, and equal protection.

196. The City's actions in leaking Puckett's protected personnel information and

denying Puckett's grievance regarding the same were malicious, irrational, arbitrary, in bad faith,

for an improper and abusive purpose, and motivated by ill will resulting from Puckett's

constitutionally protected speech and activity as demonstrated above and was based on an

intentional or reckless disregard for and deliberate indifference to Puckett's rights.

197. The City's actions were without any legitimate justification.

198. The City had knowledge of and ratified Chief Hannan's wrongful actions and

violated Puckett's constitutional rights and failed to take appropriate action against Chief Hannan.

199. The failure and refusal of the City and its officials to follow and comply with the

duly enacted policies and resolutions of City Council, the manipulation of the application of

policies and resolutions by the CFD, and the City's affirmation, ratification, and participation in

that manipulation constitutes arbitrary and capricious acts which violate the fundamental rights of

Puckett as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

200. Puckett has been punished and threatened for his protected speech and activities,

and his exercise of those rights have been improperly chilled.

201. Puckett's rights to procedural and substantive due process and equal protection

were further violated when the City refused to accept Puckett's grievances regarding the retaliatory

leak of his confidential personnel information, and directly violated the City's Grievance policy,

43 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 92 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
HR 11, in effect at the time, which states: "Acts of harassment or reprisal (retaliation)" are

grievable under the City's Human Resources policy, yet the City refused to hear his grievance in

violation of its own grievance policy and refused to hear his appeal.

202. As a result of the City's conduct, Puckett has suffered harassment, retaliation,

defamation, and lost income.

203. As a result of the City's actions, Plaintiff is entitled to recover from the City

damages in excess of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at trial

including consequential, general, special, compensatory, declaratory and injunctive relief as set

forth below to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for emotional

distress; pre- and post-judgment interest; the costs of this action; and reasonable attorneys' fees

pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

COUNT III
(The City's Violations of the Constitution of the State of North Carolina: Article 1, Section
1 - Equality and Rights of Persons; Section 14 - Freedom of Speech; and Section 19 - Law
of the Land; Equal Protection of the Laws)

204. The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated herein

by reference.

205. No other state law is available to remedy Puckett's injuries, and he may plead the

following claims under the North Carolina Constitution.

206. The City acted under color of state law and with reckless or deliberate indifference

to Puckett's constitutional rights and with malice.

207. The City deprived Puckett of his state constitutional rights including: the right to

the enjoyment of the fruits of his own labor; the right to equal protection and due process; and the

right to free speech and protection from retaliation for exercising that right. Each right was

established at the time of the City's actions.

44 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 93 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
208. The failure and refusal of the City and its officials to follow and comply with the

duly enacted policies and resolutions of City Council, the manipulation of the application of

policies and resolutions by the CFO, and the City's affirmation, ratification, and participation in

that manipulation constitutes arbitrary and capricious acts which violate the fundamental rights of

Puckett as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Article I, Section 1. The equality and rights of persons.

209. Article I, Section 1 of the North Carolina State Constitution provides:

We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that


they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights;
that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their
own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.

210. Puckett is not an at-will employee, and he is entitled to a protected interest in

the fruits of his labor, including access to a fair grievance and appeal process, for the duration of

his employment because his employment is governed by the policies and procedures set by the

City with involvement of City Council as required.

211. The City violated the clearly established policies and procedures that granted

Puckett his protected interest in a fair grievance and appeal process. The City's violation denied

Puckett his constitutional right to the fruits of his labor, and his right to a fair grievance and appeal

process.

212. The City knew, or should have known, in the exercise of its duties, that the City

violated Puckett's constitutionally protected interests.

213. The City acted in a retaliatory, abusive, arbitrary, discriminatory, and/or

improperly motivated manner by failing to abide by its own grievance and appeal processes.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


45 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 94 of 109
214. Puckett was denied access to a fair grievance and appeal process because the

City deprived him of the right to grieve the discriminatory, retaliatory, and harassing actions of

City officials against Puckett and deprived him of the right to appeal.

215. The legitimate interests of the CFD do not include abuse of power, dishonesty by

management, corrupt or illegal practices, coverups, or retaliation against and wrongful termination

of employees who voice concerns about these issues.

216. By releasing Puckett's protected personnel information to the media, chilling his

speech and activities, denying him access to the 15th Floor, denying him access to public records

and documents that are part of his personnel file, changing requirements so Puckett could no longer

be an instructor, Chief Hannan and others in leadership refusing to meet with CFFA while Puckett

was an officer, otherwise harassing, intimidating, and threatening Puckett with disciplinary action,

termination, and even physical harm, and denying Puckett's access to a grievance and appeal

process regarding these issues, the City intentionally and arbitrarily violated Puckett's fundamental

rights as guaranteed by Article I, Sections 1, 14, and 19 of the North Carolina Constitution.

Article I, Section 14. Freedom of Speech

217. Article I, Section 14 of the North Carolina State Constitution provides:

Freedom of speech and of the press are two of the great bulwarks of liberty and
therefore shall never be restrained, but every person shall be held responsible for
their abuse.

218. Puckett has the right to speak as a citizen on matters of public interest, including

political speech, activity, activism, and has the right to engage in union activity on behalf of or

associate with CFFA, particularly related to abuse of power, dishonesty, discrimination, and

retaliation by management of the CFD condoned by the City, particularly since the CFO provides

46 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 95 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
an important public service for the health and safety of the citizens of the community, and to

properly manage taxpayer dollars.

219. Puckett engaged in free speech, political activity and activism, and union activity

or association as set forth above and as follows:

a. His activities to support firefighter rights on behalf of the CFFA, including but
not limited to;

b. His support of Crystal Eschert in her action against the City, serving as an
advocate for her and witness at her termination hearing, and later as a witness
at the Civil Service Board hearing and federal court trial;

c. His complaints to City Council and others, including members of the media,
including complaints regarding his concerns about financial mismanagement,
the misuse of grant monies, manipulation of vacation/holiday pay, manipulation
of the retirement system, revenue diversion, misuse of the appropriated funds
for staffing, unfunded liabilities in the Charlotte Firefighters Retirement
System, failure of the CFD to pay for all eligible employees to be on the North
Carolina State Firemen's Association Relief Fund Roster, Grant Assurances,
CFD attaining international accreditation and ISO class rating of 1 under false
pretenses, etc.;

d. His support of minonties whom the City unfairly denied promotions by


manipulating the promotional process, advocating for equal rights and equal
opportunity for advancement of minorities, and advocating for fair and non-
discriminatory employment practices;

e. His political speech and political activism included vetting and supporting
political candidates for local, state, and federal offices;

f. His assistance to Council Member Claire Fallon and engaging in political


activity and advocacy as set forth above and as contemplated by N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 160A-169(a);

g. His active involvement in the local chapter of the NAACP;

h. Lobbying for laws protecting minorities from police brutality at the state,
federal, and local levels, including discussing these matters with Chief Kerr
Putney and discussing Chief Hannan with Chief Putney;

i. Opposing CFD leadership's abuses of power, corruption, culture of fear and


retaliation, and CFD's silencing of anyone who can expose corruption; and

47 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 96 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
J. In other ways to be proven at trial.

222. As a result of his protected activities, the City retaliated against Puckett when it

limited his First Amendment and Article I, Section 14 rights by denying him access, chilling his

protected speech, and treating him differently than his non-union coworkers and coworkers who

did not support Crystal Eschert or oppose the CFD's abuse of power and retaliatory culture when

it:

a. Released his protected personnel information to the media in violation of N.C. Gen.
Stat.§ 160A-168;

b. Banned his access to the 15th floor of the government center, thereby limiting his access
to a public forum;

c. Denied him access to public records and documents that are a part of his personnel file
pursuant to state statute;

d. Failing to comply with his public records requests;

f. Required him to use personal vacation time to testify at the trial of Escher! v. City of
Charlotte although it paid other City employees for their time testifying;

g. Changed requirements for instructors so that Puckett could no longer serve as an


instructor, causing him loss of income;

h. Conditioned his public employment on a basis that infringes Puckett's constitutionally


protected interest in freedom of speech and expression;

1. Otherwise harassed, intimidated, and threatened Puckett with disciplinary action,


termination, and even physical harm; and

J. In other ways to be proven at trial.

223. Additionally, the City and City Council members tried to silence and retaliated

against Puckett and those associated with him in the following ways including but not limited to:

a. A City Council member called Linda Lockhart, a black female CFD employee who
complained to City Council about race and gender discrimination, unequal pay, and
retaliation, and asked her to stop speaking out at City Council meetings and to the
media;

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


48 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 97 of 109
b. City Council removed the public comments section of City Council meetings from the
public access television broadcasts;

c. The City denied access to CFD demonstrations at the Ballantyne Summer Barbecue
organized by Ray Eschert, for several years;

d. City Council refused funding provided in the past to Corine Mack's programs including
Uprising to Uplift Charlotte, which provides assistance to the community in the areas
of job skills, racism and implicit bias, overcoming barriers to housing, and conflict
resolution. Corine Mack was the President of the local NAACP chapter while Puckett
was Vice President, and Ms. Mack testified against the City at the Crystal Eschert trial;
and

e. In other ways to be proven at trial.

Protected Speech

224. Puckett has the further right under the First Amendment not to be punished or

retaliated against by his employer for speaking out as a citizen on matters of public interest and

concern, or for engaging in protected expressive activity.

225. Puckett spoke out against abuse of power, dishonesty, discrimination, corruption,

and retaliation by management of the CFD condoned by City Management, particularly since the

CFD provides an important public service for the safety and health of the citizens of the

community.

226. Puckett was concerned about the CFD' s/City' s abuse of power and its termination

of Crystal Eschert as a means to retaliate and silence her complaints about health and safety. In

contrast, the CFD did not take comparable action against City and CFD officials who actually

violated federal law, North Carolina law, and City/CFD policies such as when Chief Hannan

leaked Puckett's protected personnel information.

227. Exposing governmental inefficiency, corruption, misconduct, and retaliation is a

matter of considerable significance.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


49 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 98 of 109
Political Speech, Activity, and Activism

228. Puckett's free speech, political speech, and political activity, and union activity or

association with CFFA are absolutely protected under the First Amendment and Article I, Section

14.

229. Puckett began assisting Council Member Fallon with City Council activities,

helping her with research, attending meetings with her, and carrying boxes for her since she was a

little unsteady on her feet and could not lift and carry heavy boxes.

230. Not only was Puckett volunteering for Council Member Fallon, he was also actively

involved in the local chapter of the NAACP.

231. The City's restrictions on Puckett's access to city officials was retaliatory and an

impermissible effort to suppress his political speech and association.

232. Puckett's political speech is absolutely protected under the First Amendment

because he was engaging in the political process and associating himself with political entities and

leaders during his off-duty time.

233. North Carolina Statutes encourage public employees to engage in the political

process and maintain political associations by granting public employees protection from duress

or coercion related to their employment with a public entity.

234. The statutes recognize that public employees, based upon their position within

government, gain an important perspective and understanding of the government that will benefit

the general public if it is not restricted or limited. N.C. Gen. Stat. § l 60A-l 69(a) specifically

states:

Employees shall not be restricted from affiliating with c1v1c


organizations of a partisan or political nature, nor shall employees,
while off duty, be restricted from attending political meetings, or
advocating and supporting the principles or policies of civic or

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


50 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 99 of 109
political organizations, or supporting partisan or nonpartisan
candidates of their choice in accordance with the Constitution and
laws of the State and the Constitution and laws of the United States
of America.

235. The City's attempts to categorize Puckett's volunteering for Council Member

Fallon as a violation of City ordinance was retaliatory and an impermissible effort to suppress his

political speech and activity.

Union Activity or Association with CFF A

236. Puckett, as a member of the CFFA, engaged in the protected activity of

communicating with City government officials on behalf of all CFD firefighters. In 2012, he

served as treasurer of CFFA, and in 2016, served as Vice President.

237. CFFA, through the efforts of Puckett, provided assistance to Eschert before and

during her trial. Puckett's affiliation with CFFA was well known by CFD and the City.

238. As a leader within CFFA, Puckett would also engage in activities that connected

him with City government officials outside his duties as a firefighter.

239. Puckett's speech as a member of CFFA was not as a public employee but as a

private citizen because his role as a firefighter did not involve him interacting with city officials

on behalf of other firefighters.

240. The City maintains a widespread custom or practice of discriminating and

retaliating against those who associate with or seek assistance from CFFA or its members.

241. The City's widespread custom or practice of discriminating and retaliating against

those who associate with the CFFA is pervasive, permanent, well-settled and constitutes a

discriminatory and retaliatory custom or usage with force of law.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


51 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 100 of 109
242. The City has admitted some of the harassment and retaliation against Puckett,

including the leaking of protected personnel information that was the subject of intense media

scrutiny.

243. The City's reliance on "misunderstanding" as a basis for harassing, retaliating

against, and disciplining Puckett by removing his access to City government officials, including

the City Council, the Mayor, and City Manager's offices, is disingenuous and seeks to

disenfranchise Puckett of his right to engage in political activity.

244. The City provided open access to the public to City government officials, including

the City Council, the Mayor, and City Manager's offices; allowing any member of the public to

come and provide their opinions and concerns to the government officials directly, but denied these

rights to Puckett.

245. Puckett's speech, political speech, and political activity, and union activity or

association with CFFA are absolutely protected under the First Amendment.

246. Puckett's speech about protecting City employees from retaliation are about matters

of public concern because it exposed both actual and potential wrongdoing.

247. Puckett's speech about corrupt or illegal practices within the City or CFD involves

matters of public concern, involves political speech, and is protected under the First Amendment.

248. Puckett spoke as a private citizen and not as an employee, because his official job

duties were to work as a firefighter and did not entail political or employee advocacy.

249. The City's/CFD's interest in maintaining discipline and ensuring harmony as

necessary to the operation of its mission of promoting public safety was not impaired by Puckett's

speech, association, or CFFA activities.

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


52 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 101 of 109
250. The legitimate interests of the CFD do not include abuse of power, dishonesty by

management, corrupt or illegal practices, coverups, or retaliation against and wrongful termination

of employees who voice concerns about these issues, and health and safety of City employees.

251. Puckett's interest in expressing these concerns did not compete with the CFD's

interest in providing efficient and effective services to the public.

252. Rather, Puckett's speech is a critical component of holding the City government

accountable for the good of its employees and the community they serve.

253. It is important that employees of the CFD be free to speak out about matters of

public interest and public policy, and engage in employee, citizen, and community activism.

254. We live in a democracy where citizens are allowed to have differing opinions and

participate in matters of public debate.

255. Puckett's speech, political activity, union activity or association with CFFA at issue

in this action did not create any perceived risk to the CFD' s interests, any such apprehension by

the City was unreasonable and was outweighed by Puckett's meritorious interest.

256. The CFD has harassed and retaliated against Puckett in retaliation for his political

speech and speech advocating for the rights of Crystal Eschert and opposing her wrongful

termination

257. The City has admitted some of the harassment and retaliation against Puckett,

including the leaking of protected personnel information that was the subject of intense media

scrutiny.

258. The City's stated reason for harassing, retaliating against, and disciplining Puckett

by removing his access to City government officials, including the City Council, the Mayor, and

53 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 102 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
City Manager's offices, is disingenuous and seeks to disenfranchise Puckett of his right to engage

in political activity.

259. The actions of the CFO and the City, as described above, violated Puckett's rights.

The City retaliated against Puckett because he engaged in speech, political activity, union activity

and association with CFFA protected by the First Amendment, as punishment for his exercise of

his rights, and did so without any legitimate justification.

260. As a result of the violations of his First Amendment rights, Puckett has suffered

harassment, retaliation, defamation, and lost income.

261. Puckett has been punished and threatened for his protected speech and activities,

and his exercise of those rights have been improperly chilled.

Article I, Section 19. Law of the Land; Equal Protection of the Laws

262. Article I, Section 19 of the North Carolina State Constitution provides:

No person shall be taken, imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties,


or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner deprived of his life,
liberty, or property, but by the law of the land. No person shall be denied
the equal protection of the laws; nor shall any person be subjected to
discrimination by the State because of race, color, religion, or national
origin.

263. The City and its officials acted under color of state and federal law and with reckless

or deliberate indifference to Puckett's constitutional rights and with malice by intentionally and

without justification releasing his confidential personnel memo to the media, and thus the public,

while the files of other similarly situated employees were not released, denying him access,

chilling his speech and activity, treating him differently than his non-union coworkers and

coworkers who did not support Crystal Eschert or oppose the CFD' s abuse of power and retaliatory

culture, denying him the right to grieve and be heard on these issues. The City deprived Puckett

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


54 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 103 of 109
of his liberty and property interests, procedural and substantive due process, and equal protection

when it:

a. Released his protected personnel information to the media in violation of N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 160A-168;

b. Banned his access to the 15th floor of the government center, thereby limiting his access
to a public forum;

c. Denied him access to public records and documents that are a part of his personnel file
pursuant to state statute;

d. Failed to comply with his public records requests;

e. Required him to use personal vacation time to testify at the trial of Eschert v. City of
Charlotte although it paid other City employees for their time testifying;

f. Changed requirements for instructors so that Puckett could no longer serve as an


instructor, causing him loss of income;

g. Banned Puckett from serving as a volunteer for Council Member Fallon;

h. Conditioned his public employment on a basis that infringes Puckett's constitutionally


protected interest in freedom of speech and expression;

1. Fire Chief Jon Hannan ("Chief Hannan") and others in leadership refused to meet
with the CFFA while Puckett was an officer;

J. Deprived him of his right to file grievances and appeals;

k. Otherwise harassed, intimidated, and threatened Puckett with disciplinary action,


termination, and even physical harm, and sanctioned and encouraged Puckett's
coworkers and command staff to do the same; and

I. In other ways to be proven at trial.

264. Additionally, the City and City Council members tried to silence and retaliated

against Puckett and those associated with him in the following ways including but not limited to:

a. A City Council member called Linda Lockhart, a black female CFD employee who
complained to City Council about race and gender discrimination, unequal pay, and
retaliation, and asked her to stop speaking out at City Council meetings and to the
media;

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


55 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 104 of 109
b. City Council removed the public comments section of City Council meetings from the
public access television broadcasts;

c. The City denied access to CFD demonstrations at the Ballantyne Summer Barbecue
organized by Ray Eschert, for several years;

d. City Council refused funding provided in the past to Corine Mack's programs including
Uprising to Uplift Charlotte, which provides assistance to the community in the areas
of job skills, racism and implicit bias, overcoming barriers to housing, and conflict
resolution. Corine Mack was the President of the local NAACP chapter while Puckett
was Vice President, and Ms. Mack testified against the City at the Crystal Eschert trial;
and

e. In other ways to be proven at trial.

265. The North Carolina State Constitution protects against arbitrary government action

that is so egregious that it "shocks the conscience" or offends a "sense of justice."

266. Puckett's right to be free of arbitrary and discriminatory application of law

governing release of the confidential personnel memo was a clearly established one of which

reasonable public officials would have known and did know.

267. The City deprived Puckett of his constitutional rights to equal protection and due

process under the Fourteenth Amendment and Article I, Section 19 and retaliated against Puckett

in violation of his First Amendment and Section 14 rights.

268. The City knew, or in the exercise of its duties should have known, about Puckett's

constitutional rights and its violation of them.

269. There is compelling evidence of willful and intentional violations of substantive

and procedural due process and equal protection to allow or ratify retaliatory, arbitrary,

discriminatory, or irrational, and/or improperly motivated abuses of power, in violation of

Puckett's constitutional rights, by the City.

56 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 105 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
270. Puckett was not an at-will employee, and he also had a protected property and

liberty interest in his employment and a fair grievance, hearing, and appeal process because his

employment was governed by the policies and procedures of the City. The City deprived Puckett

of his right to file grievances, his right to a hearing, and his right to file an appeal.

271. As a result, Plaintiff is entitled to recover from the City damages in excess of

twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) in an amount to be proven at trial, including

consequential, general, special, and compensatory damages; declaratory and injunctive relief to

deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre-

and post-judgment interest; and the costs of this action.

REQUEST FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

272. The allegations of the previous paragraphs are realleged and incorporated herein by

reference.

273. Puckett requests declaratory and injunctive relief to stop current practices of the City,

including an Order requiring the City to (1) cease harassing and retaliating against him; (2) to

allow him to work as an instructor; (3) to cease disparaging and excluding him; (4) to cease

targeting and retaliating against those he associates with or those he tries to help; (5) to restore his

access to the 15th floor of the government center; (6) to clear his personnel file of any negative,

disparaging, or disciplinary actions and memos; and (7) to respond to his public records requests

which are still outstanding, including providing Puckett with his personnel file.

274. Puckett further requests declaratory and injunctive relief for the implementation of

policies to address the ongoing violations of rights. This includes at a minimum: (1) restoring his

access to the 15th Floor of the government center and requiring the City to adopt policies and

procedures guaranteeing free exercise of speech and political activity consistent with N.C. Gen.

57 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 106 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
Stat. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-169(a); (2) requiring the City to adopt policies and procedures for

appeals and grievances which comply with the requirements of procedural and substantive due

process and equal protection and which afford an opportunity to a fair and impartial hearing; (3)

requiring the City to adopt policies and procedures for grievances and appeals which prevent the

Fire Department and City from investigating itself, prevent those making or participating in the

employment decisions from deciding the grievances or appeals, prevent those with a conflict of

interest from manipulating policies and procedures to favor relatives, friends, or those who will

not speak out or speak up against unlawful conduct in the workplace; (4) requiring City to have an

impartial third party monitor or oversee the City's grievance, appeals, and processes so that they

are not prejudiced by conflicts of interest and personal agendas of Fire Department management

and manipulation of policies and procedures to favor friends and relatives of Fire Department

management or those who will not speak out or speak up against unlawful conduct in the

workplace.

PRAYER FOR RELIEF

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully prays the Court as follows:

1. Pursuant to Count One (42 U.S.C. § 1983 - First Amendment Retaliation Against

the City), that Plaintiff have and recover from the City all damages in excess of $25,000.00 as set

forth above in an amount to be proven at trial, including consequential, general, special,

compensatory, declaratory and injunctive relief to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay;

front pay; damages for emotional distress; pre- and post-judgment interest; reasonable attorneys'

fees; and the costs of this action;

2. Pursuant to Count Two (42 U.S.C. § 1983 - The City's Violations of Substantive

Due Process, Procedural Due Process, and Equal Protection Under the Fourteenth Amendment),

58 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 107 of 109


Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document
that Plaintiff have and recover from the City all damages in excess of $25,000.00 as set forth above

in an amount to be proven at trial, including consequential, general, special, compensatory,

declaratory and injunctive relief to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay;

damages for emotional distress; pre- and post-judgment interest; reasonable attorneys' fees; and

the costs of this action;

3. Pursuant to Count Three (The City's Violations of the Constitution of the State of

North Carolina: Article 1, Section 1 - The Equality and Rights of Persons; Section 14 -Freedom

of Speech,· and Section 19 - Law of the Land; Equal Protection of the Laws), that Plaintiff have

and recover from the City all damages in excess of $25,000.00 as set forth above in an amount to

be proven at trial, including consequential, general, special, compensatory, declaratory and

injunctive relief to deter similar misconduct in the future; back pay; front pay; damages for

emotional distress; pre- and post-judgment interest; and the costs of this action;

4. That the Court order declaratory and injunctive relief against the City to deter

similar misconduct in the future;

5. That Plaintiff have and recover all costs incurred in this action, including attorneys'

fees;

6. The cost of this action be taxed against the City;

7. That this matter proceed to trial before a jury; and

8. That the Court may grant such other and further relief as it deems proper.

II

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


59 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 108 of 109
Respectfully submitted, this the 30th day of May, 2019.

MALONEY LAW & ASSOCIATES, PLLC

Margaret Behringer Maloney, N.C. No. 13253


Jennifer Diane Spyker, N.C. Bar . 46048
1824 East Seventh Street
Charlotte, NC 28204
mmaloney@maloneylegal.com
jspyker@maloneylegal.com
Telephone: (704) 632-1622
Facsimile: (704) 632-1623
Attorneys for Plaintiff

Case 3:19-cv-00310-FDW-DSC Document


60 1-1 Filed 07/04/19 Page 109 of 109