Former Fort Worth worker says whistle-blower report led to her firing

FORT WORTH -- A former city employee has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging that she was wrongly fired after reporting to authorities that millions of dollars in developer fees and checks were not collected or deposited.

Catherine Davidson contends that city workers didn't deposit at least 17 checks from developers, totaling about $500,000, and that they didn't collect about $2.4 million in fees "in order to provide special treatment for certain developers such as Hillwood Development Company," according to the lawsuit, filed Thursday afternoon in Wise County's 271st District Court.

"I was fired by the city of Fort Worth for reporting illegal activity that was costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars and maybe more," Davidson said in a statement. "I was a very good employee for the city and no one deserves to be treated like this for doing the right thing."

David Pelletier, a spokesman for Hillwood Development, referred questions to city officials. Hillwood has worked closely with the city for years, and one of its best-known developments is AllianceTexas, which includes Fort Worth Alliance Airport, the world's first industrial airport.

City spokesman Jason Lamers said late Thursday that officials had no comment because they had not been served with the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes as city officials, struggling to close a $77 million budget gap, are considering options such as raising the property tax rate, eliminating homestead exemptions and even laying off employees.

"The last thing the city should do in a budget crunch is fire an employee that's trying to make sure that developers pay their fair share of taxes and that checks worth half a million dollars are put in the bank," said Jason Smith, the Fort Worth attorney representing Davidson.

In the suit, Davidson says she gave her information to the FBI and at least five city officials.

Shortly after making the reports, the lawsuit says, she was fired Feb. 23, "in retaliation for making good faith reports of violation of law to the appropriate law enforcement entities."

Davidson, who was a development project coordinator in the planning department, is asking for unspecified damages for lost wages, mental anguish, emotional pain and more. And she is asking to be rehired to a comparable position.

Whistle-blower lawsuits can be filed in other counties to avoid a conflict of interest for jurors.

Davidson's annual salary was $60,500.

ANNA M. TINSLEY, 817-390-7610