Kelly Knight, a former employee of White Lake Township, is suing the township for alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, and also suing Clerk Terry Lilley in both his individual and official capacities as township clerk.
Knight began working for the township in April 2008 as a grant and community administrator. According to her lawsuit, Knight was diagnosed in June 2010 with a “cyst-like structure” on her spinal cord which required a leave of absence from work, which she was granted under the FMLA by the township.
According to Jeffrey Buehner, Knight’s attorney, Knight was three weeks into her medical leave when she discovered she was fired.
Knight alleges she found out from her neighbor that she had been fired.
“I thought I had no reason to worry about my job or position, and then three weeks into my medical leave I find out from my neighbor at the mailbox that I had been fired,” she said.
The White Lake Township Board of Trustees held a special meeting on July 13, 2010, at which time the board unanimously voted to eliminate the position of grant writer — Knight’s position — effective July 14, 2010, according to the minutes for that meeting.
The board also decided at that meeting to eliminate the secretarial positions in the Clerk’s Office and the Assessing Office, in addition to other measures to help trim the township budget.
The court complaint filed by Kelly acknowledges that the township issued her a written notice on or about July 28 that her employment would be terminated effective Sept. 1.
Knight and her attorney then filed suit in federal district court against White Lake Township for allegedly engaging in conduct prohibited under the FMLA. She is also suing the township for violation of her civil and constitutional rights under the Articles 1 and 17 of the Michigan Constitution, as she claims she was “terminated without proper notice or hearing.”
Knight also claims she has been deprived of her rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as the board allegedly has engaged in conduct “publicly stigmatizing her, not allowing her an opportunity to publicly answer Defendant Lilley’s accusations, thus interfering with her career and depriving her of her liberty interest in her reputation.”
Knight’s lawyer said the lawsuit was “avoidable” on the part of White Lake officials because “you don’t fire people who are on FMLA leave.”
“The situation has completely defamed my client and impugned her reputation,” Buehner said.
Lilley and his wife are also being sued individually by Knight for allegedly stating “false and defamatory statements” to others in the community.
Knight alleges that Lilley and his wife told her neighbor that she was “pulling a fast one” and “was faking her medical condition to be off work.”
In addition to being laid off while on medical leave, Knight claimed that “to have a high-ranking public official drag my name through the mud is demoralizing and humiliating.”
As such, she is seeking a monetary reward for lost wages, as well as damages in the amount above the minimum federal jurisdictional limit of $75,000.
Township Attorney Greg Need said that the township is denying all allegations in the complaint.
“We don’t think there is any merit to these claims and are fully confident we will be vindicated in court,” he said.
Lilley declined to comment on the lawsuit at this time.